We’ve all been told about the legend of St George; he rescued a maiden by slaying a dragon. Yet in actuality, he was indeed a real person. In fact, he’s considered a Christian martyr.
St George was born and raised within a wealthy Christian family in the now modern-day Turkey. He followed his father into the army and soon became part of the entourage of Emporer Diocletian, who ruled Rome from 284 to 305AD. The Emporer is infamous for the ‘great persecution’, the last and most severe victimisation of Christians in the Roman Empire in 303AD. Emporer Diocletian declared that all Christian soldiers in the army should be immediately expelled and be forced to make the traditional pagan sacrifice.
However, St George refused to convert and, in front of his fellow soldiers, declared himself to be Christian and turned down repeated offerings of wealth and indulgence as persuasion to convert. With
St George refused and denounced the edict in front of his fellow soldiers, declaring he was a Christian. With Emporer Diocletian left with no choice, he ordered the execution of St George on 23rd April 303AD.
So what does this have to do with England?
Italian painter Paolo Uccello’s interpretation of the myth of St George who was actually a real person.
Despite St George being born in Turkey, King Edward III declared him the patron saint of England in 1327. In fact, a patron saint does not have to be from the same country they were born in, they merely need to symbolise traits that a state want to display to everybody else. The association between England and the Martyr grew when Shakespeare had King Henry V finish his pre-battle speech with the famous ending ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!’.
Nowadays, the festival revolves around an eclectic mix of celebrations taking place throughout the day. One of the biggest highlights being the annual Feast of St George in Trafalgar Square where there is typically demos from London chefs, divine banquets, family games, brass bands and a medieval jousting. The celebration of this martyr has been around since the 1300’s and continues to be a staple of the national calendar.