Every year, on the 23rd of April, England celebrates Saint George’s Day. Also the National Day of England, Saint George’s Day is a day of celebration in honour of Saint George, the patron saint of England. April 23rd is the traditionally accepted day of his death in 303 AD.
In reality, Saint George was a Roman soldier who protested against the torture and persecution of Christians. He was imprisoned, and later beheaded for his beliefs. It is unlikely that the real Saint George ever set foot in England, but he gained great popularity among its people as a result of the Golden Legend of Saint George and the Dragon.
The legend goes as such: In the ancient city of Silene, there was a lake by which a terrifying dragon resided. This made it difficult for the people of Silene to draw water from the pond, and so every day, to appease the dragon, they would offer him a sacrifice of sheep. After they ran out of sheep, they began to sacrifice young maidens, who were chosen by drawing lots. One time, the King’s daughter Sabra was selected. The King was distraught and tried to negotiate a deal for his daughter’s life, but the people were adamant, and Sabra was sent to the lake to be devoured.
As it happened, Saint George was riding by that very lake, and chanced upon the Princess. As she was explaining the situation to him, the dragon emerged from its hole. Saint George fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross, and, charging at the dragon on horseback, he smote it with his sword and slayed it. When he returned to the city with the Princess, the people, upon seeing him triumphant, vowed to abandon Paganism and convert to Christianity.
The banner of Saint George, a red cross upon a white background, forms the national flag of England, and is a part of the Union Jack. The symbol was first adopted for the uniform of soldiers in the late 12th century, during the reign of King Richard I. However, it was not until the reign of King Henry III, some two hundred years later, that Saint George replaced Edmund the Martyr as the patron saint of the English monarchy.
In addition to being the patron saint of England, Saint George is the patron saint of scouting all over the world. Saint George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is dedicated to him, as is the prestigious honour, the Order of the Garter. New appointments to the Order are announced on Saint George’s Day.
This year, the Feast of Saint George in London will take place at Trafalgar Square on the 21st of April. Organised by the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority, the celebrations will include a host of events, including parades, food festivals and children’s activities, all of which are available to the public for free. There will be live bands playing on the main stage, which will be surrounded by food stalls and an English farmer’s market.
Traditional celebrations of Saint George’s Day include singing the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ in cathedrals and chapels and wearing a red rose (the national flag of England) in one’s lapel.