Saint George’s Day represents the feast day of Saint George, celebrated by Christian churches, countries, and cities of which he is the patron saint, including Bulgaria, England, Georgia, Portugal and Romania,
Saint George’s Day is celebrated on 23 April each year which is the traditionally accepted date of the saint’s death in the Diocletianic Persecution of Christians.
St George stands for the courage to face adversity in order to defend the innocent. The triumph of good over evil, through courage. The choice of St George as England’s patron saint was predominantly that of one man, King Edward III, who reigned from 1327 to 1377.
Legend tells us that St George slew an evil dragon that was plaguing a local town and saved a princess. It is traditionally a Christian celebration as the story goes that St George offered to kill the dragon only if the town converted to Christianity.
Strangely St George’s Day never has the same celebration or popularity as St Patrick’s Day. This may be due to a Church of England rule that there should be no Saint’s days between Palm Sunday and the Sunday after Easter Day. As St George’s Day is on the 23rd April and depending when Easter falls, St George’s Day is simply not celebrated year after year and over time it has been mainly forgotten about!
St George is believed to have been born in Cappadocia in modern-day Turkey, some time during the late third century to Christian parents. While not much is known of his early life, St George’s legendary status really begins after he became a soldier in the Roman Army under Emperor Diocletian. Military employment suited George well until Diocletian began implementing a religious cleanse that saw the expulsion and execution of Roman Christians.
Depending on how the story is told, Diocletian tried to tempt St George’s conversion with the promise of wealth and power before he was executed – alternate versions say the execution came after seven years of torture. But in all versions, St George’s determination to keep his faith resulted in the Christian conversion of others. Following his decapitation in AD 303, George was hailed as a hero and a saint across the Christian faith, but it would be another 900 years before the dragon was mentioned.
The religious crusades that plagued the 11th and 13th centuries brought about a resurgence of popularity for the saint. The red-on-white cross that crusaders wore is also known as St George’s cross. At some point around the 11th century, this revival of St George also resulted in the legend he is most famously associated with.
According to folklore, St George rescued a princess who was about to become dinner for a dragon that had settled near the city of Silene – allegedly in modern-day Libya. As luck would have it, St George was passing through and saved the princess by beheading the dragon. His bravery is said to have inspired people in Silene to convert to Christianity. A great story, but more fantasy than reality.
A tale of a noble Christian soldier coming to the rescue of a princess fit perfectly with Medieval notions of chivalry and courtly love – ideas that became the driving ethos behind Western Christianity’s notions of civility and social order. In 1344 when Edward III created his own chivalrous knightly order, the Order of the Garter, St George was named as their patron saint. It remains the most prestigious British order of chivalry today.
Thanks to his Medieval revival, St George became a popular patron saint. The red-on-white cross is emblematic of the English and Georgian flags.
On 23 April, communities around the world celebrate the saint’s feast day. In England, pubs are adorned with the English flag. The Order of the Garter also announces new knighthoods on this day at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle – the same chapel where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex married in May 2018.
Whether he slayed a dragon or not, St George’s legacy has endured for over a millennia. His legend still serves as the prototype for our notions of Medieval bravery, and his martyrdom is a source of strength for modern Christians.