Today 23rd April is St Georges Day, the patron saint of England and a day that Jeremy Corbyn, if elected to government, has said he will announce his plans to make St George’s day a national holiday – giving the whole country the day off.
But although St George has long been accepted as our patron saint, St George wasn’t English. In fact, he may never have even existed, but if he did he was probably born in what is now modern-day Turkey, to a Turkish father serving in the Roman army and a Palestinian mother. And although he’s been illustrated many times in children’s history books and stories told from ancient folk law, he almost certainly didn’t slay any dragons!
This may be why St George’s Day is not a national holiday, and why one in five people don’t know that the feast of St George is April 23rd. But that doesn’t mean he’s not fascinating.
Here are some facts that you might not know.
- St George is said to have been born in 270 AD in Lydda, Roman Palestine. His father was an official in the Roman army and his mother a local Greek Christian of Palestine. He moved to Palestine and became a Roman soldier, but is said to have resigned his post to protest against Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians.
In 302 Diocletian decreed that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and all other soldiers should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. George objected, was imprisoned and tortured, but he stayed true to his faith. The Feast of Saint George is still celebrated by Palestinians in the Monastery of St George near Bethlehem. He is known as “al-Khidr”.
This story is not the reason he is patron saint of England. King Richard the Lionheart adopted St George as his protector after visiting his shrine while on the Crusades – his troops said a vision of the saint inspired them to victory.
The legend of St George and the Dragon is said to have been brought back to England by the Crusaders.
Eastern Orthodox images of Saint George slaying a dragon often include a young maiden looking on. (as in the articles introductory picture)
The usual interpretation is that the dragon represents Satan and the young maiden is Alexandra, the wife of Diocletian.
The English version of the legend – which included an actual dragon, probably thanks to a mistranslation – became popular as part of the Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voragine, a collections of stories of saints and one of the first books printed in the English language.