History of St. George’s Day
St. George is the Patron Saint of England and St George’s Day is celebrated annually on the 23rd April, as this is the date that is generally accepted as the date of his death.
It is not a national holiday in the UK unlike those afforded to the patron saints of other countries within the United Kingdom: St. Andrew’s Day in Scotland (30th November) and St. Patrick’s Day in Northern Ireland (17th March).
In addition to England, St George is the patron saint of Portugal, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Macedonia, and many cities across Europe. St. George’s Day is also a regional holiday in the Aragon region of Spain and a provincial government holiday in Newfoundland, Canada. It is also a holiday for government and schools in the state of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
St. George is also the patron saint of many other organizations, including the Scout Movement, who have celebrated St. George’s Day on April 23rd since its inception.
So Who was St. George?
St. George was a cavalryman in the Roman army at Lydda (now in modern-day Israel). He was a Christian at a time when Rome was ruled by the emperor Diocletian, who was anti-Christian.
He refused to make sacrifices to the Roman gods and as a result, he was tortured and eventually suffered a martyr’s death, when he was beheaded in 303 AD.
He began to be venerated around the fifth century when a monastery was built and dedicated to him in Jerusalem.
He is also known as ‘The Dragon Slayer’
Today it is not just George’s martyrdom that propelled him to popularity, but the tales of his heroism in slaying dragons and rescuing fair maidens. Stories such as these started to appear sometime in the 11th Century and become famous across all of Europe and parts of Asia.
One version of a tale describes a dragon that would come from the sea to terrorise a nearby town, so the locals offered animals each day to keep the monster from attacking them further. When they ran out of animals, they became more desperate and started sacrificing humans. One day a princess was selected and was about to be taken by the dragon when St. George rode in on a white horse, and drove a lance down the dragon’s throat. The picture most frequently depicted throughout history is that of St George fighting and slaying the dragon on horseback and is often thought to symbolise the victory of Christianity over paganism.
It was King Edward III who introduced the battle cry “St. George for England” and later founded the Order of the Garter, with St. George as its patron. To mark the day, the Queen announces new appointments to the Order of the Garter on St. George’s Day.
Happy St George’s Day!