Posted on 23rd April 2012
St George's Day
Today is the 23rd April; it’s Shakespeare’s birthday, and it is St George’s Day. Since most of us know who Shakespeare is, I thought I’d investigate a bit more about St George as I have to admit that I’m not very knowledgeable at all when it comes to our patron saint.
St George is really very old indeed and we celebrate him on the 23rd April because it is thought that the 23rd April AD 303 was the day he died. As far as records show, the first St George’s day celebrations took place in 1222 when the Synod of Oxford declared St. George’s day a feast day in England.
St George is famous for three main reasons: the St George’s cross flag, for slaying a dragon and because of the line ‘cry God for Harry, England and Saint George’ in Shakespeare’s play Henry V. But who exactly was St George…?
St George was a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina who was born at some point in the latter years of the third century AD. According to legend a dragon once made a home for itself in the spring that provided water for the city of ‘Silene’ (thought to be Cyrene in modern Libya). In order to get water from the spring, which the citizens desperately needed to do, they would sacrifice a sheep to the dragon. However, soon the dragon got bored of sheep and took a liking to eating young maidens. For obvious reasons, this was far from ideal and highly unsustainable and luckily one day St George appeared and killed the dragon. The citizens were so thrilled that they all converted to Christianity.
Thanks to this legend St George is now most frequently depicted on a white horse killing the dragon and rescuing a distressed maiden. The dragon is often seen as an allegory for Satan or paganism.
In AD 303 the Emperor Diocletian decided that every Christian soldier in his army should be arrested, and all the other soldiers should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. This outraged George and he stuck by his faith and refused to be arrested. Diocletian did his best to convert George by bribing him with land and gifts, but George refused to abandon his faith. Eventually he was executed for his disobedience.
Between 1400-1700 St George’s Day was particularly widely celebrated, and although it is still marked in England, the festivities have waned somewhat over the past few hundred years. However you might still see some St George’s flags around today, and in Salisbury there is still an annual St George’s Day pageant. It is also seen as a good day to do very traditionally English things like have afternoon tea, watch Punch and Judy shows, go morris dancing and sing the hymn Jerusalem.
Are you doing anything to celebrate St George’s day? Let us know if you are, we’d love to hear from you!