April 23rd St George’s Day

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© F H Powell 2014

St George is the patron saint of England and St George’s day is celebrated on 23rd April. 23rd of April is also celebrated as the birth and death days of William Shakespeare so has a double significance for English people.

St George is usually depicted as a knight mounted on a horse, carrying either a shield or a banner with a red cross and killing a dragon. It is unlikely he ever killed a dragon (or visited England), as he was born in Cappadocia (now in Turkey) in 270 AD to Christian parents. He became a Roman soldier and protested about the Roman treatment of Christians. The Emperor Diocletian having persecuted and tortured many Christians during this time. George himself was tortured for his faith, but remained true to Christianity. George was eventually beheaded in Lydda, Palestine on 23rd April 303 AD.

The emblem of St George was adapted to the familiar red cross on a white background by Richard the Lionheart in the 12th Century, and brought home to England along with the myth of St George slaying the dragon. It was said that some Crusaders had experienced visions of St George and the dragon (the dragon being a common symbol for the devil in the Middle Ages) before being victorious in battle, so adopted him as their patron saint, St George remains the patron saint of soldiers to this day. The English nation formally adopted St George as their Patron Saint in the mid 14th century following the battle of Crécy, when King Edward III wore the cross of St George on his surcoat, hoping for aid from the Patron Saint of soldiers. It was deemed to have worked as the English army were victorious on this occasion and so St George was adopted by the nation. The original patron saint of England having been Edward the Confessor until this time.
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The celebration of St George’s Day was once a major festival in England (on a par with Christmas) especially during the 15th Century, but this custom had almost died out by the 18th Century. There are many people trying to revive the status of St George’s Day as England’s National Day.

Some areas of England still celebrate St Georges Day in traditional ways. For example St Georges day fairs are held in Penrith (Cumbria), Hatfield (Hertfordhire) and Bewdley (Worcestershire). Lichfield in Staffordshire holds an annual St Georges day Court at noon on St Georges Day in Lichfield’s Guildhall.

Traditionally a red rose was worn on St Georges Day and the Flag of St George was flown from every church tower. Now althought he red rose can be seen on the English rugby teams shirts and the Cross of St George on the shirts of the England football team, many people (including some English people) do not recognise these as symbols of England.