St George, the patron saint of England, Lebanon, Georgia, Portugal, Bulgaria, Valencia, the list goes on. But I thought England had exclusivity on this great hero. Apparently not and for such a diluted Saint, why the fuss?
The Royal Society of St George founded in 1894 was established to promote ‘Englishness’ and the English way of life, gallantry and good overcoming evil.
Graham Smith launched the St George Unofficial Bank Holiday campaign in 2006 and Andrew Rosindell MP for Romford has also been pushing for a National Public Holiday.
But a Downing Street statement said “the present pattern of bank holidays in the UK is well established and accepted and the Government has no current plans to change the arrangements”.
So what do we know about this national unsung hero?
Everyone is familiar with the George and the Dragon stories; the Caxton Press published The Golden Dragon in 1483, a translation from a French Bishop, Jacques de Voragine’s story of George rescuing a maiden from a dragon.
So was the dragon fact or fiction?
If we turn the clock back 1,730 years when George was born into a Christian family in Cappadocia (now in Turkey); following his father’s death, George’s mother decided to return to her native Palestine.
Like his father before, the strong and handsome George became a soldier, quickly rising through the ranks.
However, when the pagan Emperor Diocletian persecuted the Christians, George stood up for them. He was arrested, tortured and eventually executed for his Christian beliefs.
He was reportedly beheaded at Lydda, Palestine and his head carried to Rome and preserved in a church dedicated to him.
The early Crusaders wore the St George symbol of a red cross on a white background, so soldiers could recognise one another on the battlefield; and as the Crusades returned from fighting the Saracens, George’s reputation grew.
Richard the Lionheart wore the red cross and it is incorporated into the Union Flag.
The earliest known church in England to be dedicated to St George is in Fordington, Dorset where there is a stone carving depicting St George leading crusaders into battle.
The church of St George, Hinton St George, Somerset was built by the 13th century masons of Wells Cathedral.
George’s philosophy became increasingly important to the Christian way of life and in 1222 St George’s Day was set as 23 April, the accepted date of his death in 303 AD.
Life was very tough in medieval England and from the 14th century, St George was seen as a special protector of the English. Then in 1415 George became the patron saint of England when the Battle of Agincourt was won under King Henry V. St George’s Day was then second only to Christmas Day.
St George’s popularity probably began to wane around the time of the Reformation.
In 1778, St George’s Day was demoted to a simple day of devotion for the Catholics. Until finally in 1969, the RC Church downgraded St George to the minimum status of commemoration so celebration was optional.
Time passes and attitudes change, do we still need to celebrate this ancient super hero?
But doesn’t everyone need a champion – handsome, strong and chivalrous? Perhaps with our dependence on the system we no longer have the same gap in our lives. But with the continuing recession, maybe it’s time to revive the dragon slaying hero to bring back the feel good factor that everyone looks for in life.
‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George!’ (Shakespeare Henry V)
Gold coin depicting George and the Dragon: Crown copyright, image supplied by the Royal Mint