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The History of St George’s Day
In 1222 the Council of Oxford declared April 23rd to be St George’s Day
It was not until 1348 that St George became the Patron Saint of England
In 1415, St George’s Day was declared a national feast day and holiday in England
However, after the union with Scotland at the end of the 18th Century, the tradition diminished and since has not been widely acknowledged and is no longer a national holiday
Traditional customs were to fly the St George’s flag and wear a red rose in one’s lapel
The hymn ‘Jerusalem’ was also sung on the 23rd April, or the nearest Sunday to that date, in churches across the nation
The 23 April 1616 was also the date of the death of the English playwright William Shakespeare. UNESCO marked this historic date by declaring it the International Day of the Book.
Facts of St George’s life have passed through the centuries growing in legend and myth. However, he must have been some character in his lifetime for his reputation to have survived for almost 1,700 years!
There are many accounts giving what are believed to be the facts outlining the life of England’s Patron Saint. Below are the widely accepted ‘facts’ of St George’s life.
St George was born to Christian parents in A.D. 270 (3rd Century) in Cappadocia, now Eastern Turkey
He moved to Palestine with his Mother and became a Roman soldier, rising to the high rank of Tribunus Militum
However, he later resigned his military post and protested against his pagan leader, the Emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD), who led Rome’s persecution of Christians
His rebellion against the Emperor resulted in his imprisonment, but even after torture he stayed true to his faith
The enraged Diocletian had St George dragged through the streets of Nicomedia, Turkey, on the 23rd of April 303 AD and had him beheaded
The Emperor’s wife was so inspired by St George’s bravery and loyalty to his religion, that she too became a Christian and was subsequently executed for her faith
St George & England
St Adomnán, the Abbot of Iona in Scotland, provides Britain’s earliest recorded reference to Saint George in the 7th Century. He details the story of the Saint’s exploits, which had been told to him by a French bishop named Arcuif who had travelled to Jerusalem with the crusaders
St Bede the Venerable (c.a. 673-735) from Northern England, also made reference to St George in his writings
As the Crusaders returned to England from foreign shores, they brought with them tales of St George, and his reputation grew
A church in Fordington, Dorset, records the ‘miracle appearance’, where St George presented himself outside Jerusalem in 1099 and led the Crusaders into battle. The story is etched into stone over the southern door of the church which still stands today. It is the earliest known church in England to be dedicated to the patron Saint
English soldiers wore a sign of St George on their chest and on their backs in the 14th century, as the Saint was regarded as a special protector of the English
King Edward III (1312-1377) founded the Order of the Garter (1348), the premier order of chivalry or knighthood in England. The Order was put under Saint George’s patronage and the medal is awarded on the 23rd April by the reigning Monarch
The King’s predecessors Edward IV & Henry VII, oversaw the construction of the beautiful St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, which presented itself as the chapel of the Order
It was in the year 1415 AD that St. George became the Patron Saint of England when English Soldiers under Henry V when he won the battle of Agincourt
In 1497, during the reign of Henry VIII, the pennant of the Cross of St. George was flown by John Cabot when he sailed to Newfoundland and it was also flown by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh
In 1620 it was the flag that was flown by the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is also the flag of the Church of England and as such is known throughout Christendom
In the year 1728 AD Maximilian II Emanuel, the Elector of Bavaria, established by Papal Bull The Royal Military Order of St George, as a means of honouring distinguished military service for it was clear that by this time, his name had become associated with the purity of spirit, selfless devotion to duty and boundless courage and valour in the face of adversity
In more recent times, St George was chosen as the patron saint of Scouting, because of the ideals that he represents and it is interesting to note that he is also the Patron Saint of Barcelona in Catalonia, Aragon, Russia, Bavaria, Beirut, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Lithuania and Hungary, to name but a few. Virtually every country in Europe and the Commonwealth has a church dedicated to St. George
During World War II King George VI established the George Cross for outstanding acts of Civilian Valour and one of the earliest recipients was the Island of Malta, for its outstanding courage in the face of the constant bombardment by the Italian and German Air forces. It is, coincidentally, the Island that was closely associated and governed by the Crusaders who arrived from the Island of Rhodes in the 14” Century, following their 200 year war with the Turks
In the 13th Century, there was a Guild of St. George to which the Honourable Company of Pikemen were related before evolving into the Honourable Artillery Company. Many regiments of the Army still celebrate St. George’s Day with great ceremony
St George & The Dragon
The medieval legend of St George and the dragon is over a thousand years old. The tale goes that the dragon made it’s nest by the fresh water spring near the town of Silene in Libya. When people came to collect water, they inadvertently disturbed the dragon and so offered sheep as a distraction.
After time, there were simply no sheep left to offer the dragon and so the people of Silene decided to chose a maiden from the town by drawing lots. When the results were read, it was revealed that the princess was to be the dragon’s next victim. Despite the Monarch’s protest his daughter Cleolinda was offered to the dragon...
However, at the moment of offering, a knight from the Crusades came riding by on his white stallion. St George dismounted and drew his sword, protecting himself with the sign of the cross. He fought the dragon on foot and managed to slay the beast and saved the princess. The people of Silene were exceptionally grateful and abandoned their pagan beliefs to convert to Christianity.