How the Dragon Slayer Became England’s Patron Saint
Why do the English celebrate St George?
St George became a legendary figure in English history because of his courage and bravery – but he never set foot in England. The country adopted him as its patron saint, with April 23 chosen as the date of celebration to mark his death.
King Edward III created the Order of the Garter in his name around 1348, but it was not until the 14th century that St George was considered a special protector of the English. After England’s victory at Agincourt in 1415, Archbishop Chichele elevated the celebration of St George to a double feast.
St George has been immortalized in many ways, for example, in Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act III features a speech with “Cry God for Harry, England and St George”.
St George and the dragon
In addition to his military background and devotion to his faith, St George is famous for battling a dragon, which generally symbolized the devil in the Middle Ages.
Legend says that St George fought a dragon and rescued a princess in the town of Silene – although this is most likely a myth. According to legend, the only well in Silene was guarded by a dragon and every day the inhabitants had to make human sacrifices to access the water.
A princess was the next to be sacrificed and on the day she was to be killed, St George bravely fought the dragon to save her. After St George succeeded in slaying the dragon, the people of Silenus were finally granted free access to the well and, in gratitude, they converted to Christianity.
Why isn’t Saint George’s Day a public holiday?
While many countries mark their patron saint’s day with a public holiday, England does not do the same for St. George’s Day.
St Patrick’s, St David’s and St Andrew’s see Ireland, Wales and Scotland celebrated with patriotic community events, but St George’s Day has become less important over the years, leaving the nation confused as to whether to recognize and celebrate it or not.
As the date is not considered a public holiday, transport, schools and businesses operate normally every year.
In 2018, former Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the patron saint’s day would become a national holiday under a Labor government. Some people have shown support for the idea, arguing that a holiday would help boost celebrations again.
How is Saint George’s Day celebrated in England?
Since the 18th century, after the union of England and Scotland in 1707, celebrations have declined, although some parades and public activities continue to take place each year.
The Cross of St. George, the English flag and part of the Union Jack, is the symbol displayed on April 23. Dating back to the year 1188, crosses were first used by King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France for their crusading symbols.
Although England first adopted a white cross, it later switched to a red cross, which was used as part of the uniforms of English soldiers in several battles. Edward I eventually made this symbol a national emblem during his reign.
Today, the Cross of St George is frequently used at football, rugby and cricket matches, with fans wearing scarves, painting their faces and waving flags to show their support for England.
While St. George’s Day celebrations have diminished over time, there are still parades, music performances and public events held across the country to honor the patron saint.