April 23 is St. George’s Day, England’s National Day!6 min read
Originally written on April 23, 2021 – Updated 2023
St. George’s Day is celebrated on this day, 23 April, and It is England’s national day.
His emblem, a red cross on a white background, is the flag of England, and also part of the British flag.
St George’s emblem was adopted by Richard The Lion Heart and brought to England in the 12th century, and the king’s soldiers wore it on their tunics to avoid confusion in battle.
Like England, every country in the UK has its own patron saint who in times of great peril is called upon to help save the country from its enemies.
St George, popularly identified with England and English ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry, actually he wasn’t English at all.
His popularity in England stems from the time of the early Crusades when it is said that the Normans saw him in a vision and were victorious.
Very little is known about the man who became St George. Lived in 3rd century, is believed to have been born in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) in the year A.D. 270. His parents were Christian. At the age of seventeen he joined the Roman army and soon became renowned for his bravery. He served under a pagan Emperor but never forgot his Christian faith. When the pagan Emperor Diocletian started persecuting Christians, St. George pleaded with the Emperor to spare their lives. However, his pleas fell on deaf ears and it is thought that the Emperor Diocletian tried to make St. George deny his faith in Christ, by torturing him. St George showed incredible courage and faith and was finally beheaded near Lydda in Palestine on 23 April, 303.
In 1222, the Council of Oxford declared April 23 to be St George’s Day and he replaced St Edmund the Martyr as England’s patron saint in the 14th century. It was April 13, 1415, that it was made a national feast day.
One of the best-known stories about Saint George is his fight with a dragon. But it is highly unlikely that he ever fought a dragon, and even more unlikely that he ever actually visited England.
Well, despite this, St George is known throughout the world as the dragon-slaying patron saint of England.
In any case, in the Middle Ages the dragon was commonly used to represent the Devil, and the slaying of the dragon by St George was first credited to him in the twelfth century, long after his death. It is therefore likely that the many stories connected with his name are a quite fancyful.
There are many versions of story of St George slaying the dragon, but most agree on the following:
A town was terrorised by a dragon, and a young princess was offered to the beast.
When George heard about this he rode into the village, he slayed the dragon and rescued the princess.
In details, as story goes, St. George travelled for many months by land and sea until he came to Libya, where he met a poor hermit who told him that everyone in that land was in great distress, for a dragon had long ravaged the country.
“Every day”, said the old man, “he demands the sacrifice of a beautiful maiden and now all the young girls have been killed. The king’s daughter alone remains, and unless we can find a knight who can slay the dragon she will be sacrificed tomorrow. The king of Egypt will give his daughter in marriage to the champion who overcomes this terrible monster.”
When St. George heard this story, he was determined to try and save the princess, so he rested that night in the hermit’s hut, and at daybreak set out to the valley where the dragon lived.
When he drew near he saw a little procession of women, headed by a beautiful girl dressed in pure Arabian silk. The princess Sabra was being led by her attendants to the place of death. The knight spurred his horse and overtook the ladies. He comforted them with brave words and persuaded the princess to return to the palace. Then he entered the valley.
As soon as the dragon saw him it rushed from its cave, roaring with a sound louder than thunder. Its head was immense and its tail 150 meters long. But St. George was not afraid, and he struck the monster with his spear, hoping he would wound it.
However the dragon’s scales were so hard that the spear broke into a thousand pieces, and St. George fell from his horse. Fortunately he rolled under an enchanted orange tree against which poison could not prevail, so that the venomous dragon was unable to hurt him. Within a few minutes he had recovered his strength and was able to fight again.
He smote the beast with his sword, but the dragon poured poison on him and his armour split in two. Once more he refreshed himself from the orange tree and then, with his sword in his hand, he rushed at the dragon and pierced it under the wing where there were no scales, so that it fell dead at his feet.
St George is always depicted as a knight carrying a shield with a red cross (or a banner with a red cross), generally sitting upon a horse and always killing a dragon.
St George is patron saint not only of England but also of Aragon, Catalonia, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia, as well as the cities of Amersfoort, Beirut, Bteghrine, Cáceres, Ferrara, Freiburg, Genoa, Ljubljana, Gozo, Pomorie, Qormi, Lod and Moscow.
St George is also patron saint of scouts, soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry, farmers and field workers, riders and saddlers, and he helps those suffering from leprosy, plague and syphilis.
He is also patron Saint of scouting. On the Sunday nearest to 23 April, in fact, scouts and guides throughout England parade through high streets and attend a special service at their local church.
By tradition, 23 April is also the day for a red rose in the button hole, the national flower.
However, unlike other countries, England does not celebrate it with parties or fireworks. In fact, you are more likely to see big St Patrick parades in England celebrating Ireland’s National Day, more than you would see any sign of St Georges Day being celebrated!
For most people in England St George’s Day is just another ordinary working day.
Interestingly, despite the fact that St. George has been the patron saint of England since the 14th century, only one in five people know that St. George’s Day falls on 23 April, and more than a quarter of people living in England do not even know who their patron saint is!
St. George more frequently appears in Mummers’ Plays during Easter and Christmas celebrations, plays that have been performed in Britain for hundreds of years. They are folk dramas based on the legend of St. George and the Seven Champions of Christendom.
Images from web – Google Research