Saint George's Day History and Celebrations

Saint George's Flag
Image by James Yardley
Saint George is the patron saint of England. Saint George's Day, is England's official national day, and is celebrated on April 23rd every year.

It is believed that Saint George died on April 23rd in 303 AD in Lydda, Palestine. It is traditionally understand that he was a Roman soldier and a priest who was renowned for his support of those in need. Saint George is venerated as a Christian martyr.

Saint George's Day celebrates the feast day of Saint George. Since the revision of the Roman Catholic calendar by Pope Paul VI, it has held the rank of "Memorial", which means that its celebration is optional.

Saint George is said to have appeared to the crusading armies during the Battle of Antioch in 1098, and was subsequently adopted as the Patron Saint of soldiers. The Byzantine troops to the Crusaders told similar stories, and they were later circulated more widely by troubadours.

King Richard I, known as "Richard the Lionheart", put his army under the direct protection of Saint George during his campaign in Palestine during 1191 and 1192.

Patron Saint of England

In 1222, the Synod of Oxford declared that a special celebration would take place on April 23rd every year in Saint George's honour. By the end of the 14th Century, Saint George was officially acknowledged as the Patron Saint of England.

Archbishop Chichele raised the importance of Saint George's Day in 1415, the year of Battle of Agincourt, decreeing that it should be observed on a par with Christmas Day. By 1778 the holiday had switched back to being a simple day of devotion.

Saint George and the Dragon

The legend of Saint George and the Dragon comes from the 10th or 11th Century, an era when the Dragon was used to represent the Devil. Many versions different versions of the legend exist, but they share a common narrative:
  • The Dragon was terrorising a town
  • A young princess was offered to the dragon in an attempt to appease it
  • On hearing the story, Saint George rode to the town
  • Saint George killed the dragon and rescued the young princess

The Flag of Saint George

The Flag of Saint George, also known as Saint George's Cross or the Colours of Saint George, consists of a red cross on a white background. These colours were adopted for soldiers' uniforms, probably during the reign of King Richard I. Later, the Flag of Saint George became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the British Royal Navy.

Celebrating Saint George's Day

Traditionally people wore a red rose on Saint George's Day, but this custom has become less common. Likewise, fewer people fly the Flag of Saint George on April 23rd since it has been adopted by supporters of English football and other sports fans.

The hymn Jerusalem is often sung during religious ceremonies on Saint George's Day, or on the nearest Sunday to it.

Saint George, Patron Saint of Scouting

Scouts and guides throughout England hold parades and attend special St George's Day services at their local church on the Sunday nearest to the Saint's Day.

Saint George, Patron Saint of many countries and cities

In addition to being the patron saint of England, Saint George is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia, as well as the cities of Amersfoort, Beirut, Ferrara, Freiburg, Genoa, Ljubljana, and Moscow.

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