St. George’s Day
History of St. George
He is often associated with a mythical dragon and questions remain over whether or not St. George himself even existed…
Most English people will be aware that their patron saint’s day is celebrated on April 23rd, but few will know more about the history of this legendary figure. Taken as the patron saint of many other countries, including Malta, George was actually Turkish; like many other saints he was not actually a citizen of the land which bears his cross. St. Patrick of Ireland was actually a Roman Briton whilst Scotland’s St. Andrew was an Israeli!
His visage has been reported since the eleventh century, appearing to scholars and schoolboys alike. George is thought to have lived and died between 275 and 303 AD. His English saint’s day marks the date of the death attributed to him in that year. Being so long ago, there is no conclusive proof that a man named George ever existed but the beauty of his tale is perhaps in its telling, revisitations and revisions over the centuries.
With many variants on his legend recounted worldwide, it is for his association with a dragon that George is famed in England. Some believe that the tale is based on the ancient Greek legend of Perseus rescuing a virgin, Andromeda, from a sea monster. This story grew into fable around the area where George’s tomb is said to be, in Lod near Tel-Aviv.
The infamous dragon features throughout classical literary accounts of St. George but the creature, like his opponent, is of uncertain origin. The most popular recounting of the tale involves George saving a princess who has been forced to offer herself as a sacrifice to the dragon which is rampaging through her village. A classic analogy for the triumph of good over evil. This basic theme is the reason the church has maintained its support for St. George and his mythical battle.
Dragon-slaying George is popularly associated with such positive attributes as strength, courage and honour. This historic fortitude has led to various organisations adopting George as their patron saint. Farmers and soldiers are examples, whilst Lord Baden Powell chose George as patron of his scouting movement. Baden-Powell noted that St. George was “patron saint of cavalry, from which the word chivalry is derived”; a worthy figure of inspiration for any young boy scout.
St. George’s Day was only made a public holiday in the thirteenth century. By the 1400s the date was celebrated with the gusto which the English usually reserve for Christmas. It is perhaps for this reason that there has been a recent resurgence in interest in a bank holiday in honour of the day, as other European countries have for their saints. Or maybe it is just seen as a jolly good excuse for a day off work…?