April 23 marks the saint’s day of England’s patron saint St George.
Saint George and the Dragon by Gustave Moreau.
Who was Saint George?
Why is he England's patron saint?
In hagiography, as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and one of the most prominent military saints, he is immortalised in the myth of Saint George and the Dragon.
English schoolchildren are always taught that he was a knight who slew dragons but is there more to the historical figure?
According to legend, St George was a Roman soldier born in what is now modern-day Turkey in around 280AD and died around 303.
George's parents were Christians of Greek background, his father Gerontius (Greek: Γερόντιος, Gerontios meaning "old man" in Greek) was a Roman army official from Cappadocia, and his mother Polychronia (Greek name, meaning she who lives many years) was a Christian and a Greek native from Lydda in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina. Accounts differ regarding whether George was born in Cappadocia or Syria Palaestina but agree that he was raised at least partly in Lydda.
Very little is known about his early life but it is believed he was born to a wealthy Christian noble family. When he grew up he became a soldier and joined the retinue of Emperor Diocletian.
In 303 Diocletian, as part of a crackdown on the growing influence of the Christian community ordered that all Christian soldiers in the army should be expelled and all Roman soldiers were forced to make the traditional pagan sacrifice.
St George refused and denounced the edict in front of his fellow soldiers, declaring he was a Christian.
Diocletian initially tried to convert him with offers of wealth and land but when he refused he was beheaded on 23 April 303.
So what does he have to do with dragons?
The myth of St George slaying a dragon originally appeared in stories told by the medieval Eastern Orthodox Church which was brought back to Europe by the Crusaders in the 10th and 11th centuries.
If he was from Turkey how did he become the patron saint of England?
King Edward III made St George the country’s official saint just after he came to the throne in 1327.
According to historian Ian Mortimer, a patron saint did not have to be from the country they were born in - they just needed to embody the characteristics the kingdom wanted to project to the outside world.
After all, as well as England, St George is also the patron saint of Portugal, Venice, Beirut, Malta, Ethiopia, Georgia, the Palestinian territories, Serbia and Lithuania.
Edward III wanted to rebuild the strength of the English monarchy after the disastrous reign of his father - St George was part of his strategy to make England one of the most powerful and warlike nations in Europe.
Love and light,