St. George's Day: Remembering a Martyr

( [email protected] ) Apr 23, 2004 07:34 PM EDT

23 April is St. George’s Day, a particularly important day for the United Kingdom. St. George is the official Patron Saint of England, and is represented on the National flag of the United Kindgom. The middle red cross is the banner of St. George, which also represents England.

There is no historical evidence of his private life. But Christians may have got a better idea about St. George. He is venerated throughout Christendom as an example of bravery in defence of the poor and the Christian faith.

According to the apocryphal acts of St George current in various versions in the Eastern Church from the fifth century, St. George was born in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) in the year A.D. 270. He was a Christian. At the age of seventeen he joined the Roman army and soon became renowned for his bravery. George held the rank of Tribune in the Roman army. He served under a pagan Emperor but never forgot his Christian faith.

The Emperor Diocletian gave him many important missions, and it is thought that on one of these he came to England. It was while he was in England that he heard the Emperor was putting Christians to death and so he returned to Rome to help his brother Christians. He pleaded with the Emperor to spare their lives. Diocletian did all he could to persuade St. George to give up his faith, but he refused and was finally beheaded on 23rd April 303.

The most famous story of St George is about him and a Dragon, and is immensely popular in the west through the Golden Legend, translated and printed by Caxton.

The story tells of a dragon which terrorised the whole country, killing anyone who came near. For many years the monster was placated with offerings of sheep, and the occasional human being, chosen by lot. One day the king's daughter was picked as the dragon's next victim. She went to her fate, dressed as a bride, but George followed her, attacked the dragon and held it captive, using the princess's girdle. George told the people not to be afraid. He said if they believed in Jesus and were baptised, the dragon would be gone. The king and the people agreed and 15,000 were baptised then and there. George then killed the dragon. He refused any reward, simply asking the king to build churches and care for the poor.

The story of how he became the Patron Saint of England was during the Crusades. There was said to be a vision of the saint at the siege of Antioch in 1098, before the defeat of the Saracens. At the Synod of Oxford he was made the special patron of chivalry. Under King Edward III he became England's national patron.

In 1348 St George's Chapel at Windsor was founded. In 1415, this day was made a special festival throughout the country. St George's flag, the red cross on a white background is so widespread it is often regarded as a general Christian banner.

There are churches dedicated to St George in Rome, Constantinople, Venice and Verona. In England more than 160 ancient churches and several modern ones are also named after him.

Nowadays, though the religious meaning of St. George’s Day has been forgotten by most English people, some strong traditions are still encouraged by educators. Around 200 Boy Scouts and Girl Guides attended the annual St George's Day parade and service on the eve of St George's Day at the All Saints' Church, in Church Street, London. Speakers were also invited by primary schools to speak about the heritage of St. George and his revelation to daily life.