We may be in the middle of Shakespeare Week on Raggie Writes and whilst today marks the literary hero’s birthday, it is also Saint George’s Day! St George’s Day in England remembers St George, England’s patron saint. According to legend, he was a soldier in the Roman army who slew a dragon and saved a princess. Sounds almost like a fairytale doesn’t it!?
Once upon a time, Saint George’s day was a national holiday celebrated as widely as Christmas, however, over the years the holiday has decreased in popularity. Although not as popular in the UK as Saint Patrick’s Day, Saint George’s Day still brings with it the joy of feasts, parades, dancing, flying patriotic flags and most importantly, “gannin doon t’ pub” (going down to the pub).
With not much chance of the pub this year, let’s take the opportunity to learn the legend behind Saint George…
The Legend of Saint George
During AD 280, a man named George was born in what we now know to be Cappadocia in Turkey. He grew up a devout Christain, brave, strong, and kind and eventually found work as a soldier in the Roman army.
He travelled across land and sea until he arrived at Lybia where he was told of a land that was terrorised by a dragon. The land was the city of Silene. There was only one well for all of the residents in the city and this well was guarded by a dragon.
In order to retrieve water from the well, the dragon demanded the sacrifice of beautiful maidens from the city. All of the young girls in Silene had already been killed and only the King’s daughter remained.
When George heard the story, he was determined to save the princess. The night that the sacrifice was about to take place, he entered the valley intent on slaying the dragon. When he arrived, the dragon rushed out of its cave and the fight began.
George fought long and hard to defeat the dragon before it finally fell dead at his feet. Upon returning to Silene, the people praised the hero and to show their gratitude, they converted to Christianity.
When George returned to hometown, his courage was recognised and he progressed through the ranks to the role of personal guard for the ruler of the time, Emperor Diocletian. This emperor was a leader of the Diocletianic Persecution, what we now know to be the most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.
George was too loyal to his faith to turn a blind eye to the persecution of his people, regardless of what this meant for him. He bravely and honourably protested against the persecution, a huge mission for one man.
Although sadly, his heroic actions resulted in his imprisonment, torture and later, beheading on April 23, 303, his memory has lasted over 1700 years. George’s head was taken to a church in Rome (where it is now stored and named after him) and his body was buried in Lod, Israel.
The Making of a Saint
It was not until the middle ages that George became Saint George, the patron Saint of England. Around 1348, King Edward III established the Order of the Garter in his name, regarding Saint George as the personification of the ideals of Christian chivalry.
Ever since, Saint George’s Day has been celebrated on 23rd April, the same day of his execution.
Saint George and Shakespeare
There is little common ground between these two historical figures aside from the days of their birth and death. Whilst Saint George was executed on 23rd April, Shakespeare was born on the 23rs of April, hundreds of years apart. Despite there being many references of Saint George throughout literature, Shakespeare’s seems very appropriate to include today…