by Marcus Leach
The patriotic amongst you in England will know that April 23rd is St George's Day, a time to celebrate the patron Saint George. But, other than 'being English', what are we actually celebrating. Who was Saint George and what did he do to deserve such high acclaim?
Now, as with all things involving religion, there is more than one version of Saint George's life, thus making it difficult to know which one to believe. However, it is likely that he was born to a Greek Christian noble family in Lydda, in what was Palestine at that time, and today Israel, during the late third century. It was after his parents, who had raised him with Christian beliefs, died that he decided to go to Nicomedia, the imperial city of that time, and present himself to Emperor Diocletian to apply for a career as a soldier.
Given his father's legendary status as as a former army official George was welcomed into the army and soon became an officer. However, when Diocletian ordered all Christian soldiers to be arrested, and all others to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods, trouble began for George. Despite the best efforts of Diocletian to get George to convert he stuck by his faith, which ultimately cost him his life.
Diocletian, sticking by his rule, ordered the execution of George. Knowing this was coming George prepared himself for his fate, giving his wealth top the poor before being executed by decapitation before Nicomedia's city wall, on April 23, 303.With his body being returned to Lydda he became a martyr to Christians.
Now, in modern times, we know St George as the patron saint of England, with many famous images of him having slayed a dragon. So where do those images come from?
The tale goes that the dragon made it’s nest by the fresh water spring near the town of Silene in Libya. When people came to collect water, they inadvertently disturbed the dragon and so offered sheep as a distraction.
After time, there were simply no sheep left to offer the dragon and so the people of Silene decided to chose a maiden from the town by drawing lots. When the results were read, it was revealed that the princess was to be the dragon’s next victim. Despite the Monarch’s protest his daughter Cleolinda was offered to the dragon...
However, at the moment of offering, a knight from the Crusades came riding by on his white stallion. St George dismounted and drew his sword, protecting himself with the sign of the cross. He fought the dragon on foot and managed to slay the beast and saved the princess. The people of Silene were exceptionally grateful and abandoned their pagan beliefs to convert to Christianity.
And what of St George's Day itself? The Council of Oxford declared April 23rd to be St George’s Day in 1222, although it wasn't until 1348 that St George became the Patron Saint of England. It was some time then before the day was declared a national feast day, 1415 to be exact, as well as a public holiday. Whilst not a public holiday today it will also be the day that England remember's one of its greatest heros.