St.George: The legendary history of England’s patron saint

St.George became England's patron saint in the 14th century
St.George became England's patron saint in the 14th century

Every April 23, England celebrates it patron saint, St. George, a man who fought with dragons and died fighting for what he believed in. His past is wide and varied, but who exactly is the legendary man whom we celebrate annually and how did he become our patron saint?

The history of St.George

St.George's day is celebrated in England on April 23

St.George's day is celebrated in England on April 23

The early life of St.George is relatively unknown with accounts differing in regards to his place of birth. Some believe George was born in Cappadocia and others that he originates from Syria Palaestina, but it is agreed by many that he was raised at least partly in the Lydda area of Palestine.

It is believed his parents were Christian, belonged to nobility and of Greek heritage. His father, named Gerontius, was a Roman army official from Cappadocia, and his mother, Polychronia, was from Lydda, Palestine. George’s father died when he was fourteen years of age and he then returned with his mother to her homeland of Syria Palestina.

At seventeen years of age, shortly after his mother’s death, George traveled to the capital at Nicomedia, where he then joined the Roman army, climbing through the ranks and being promoted to the rank of military tribune by his late twenties, where he was stationed as an imperial guard of the Emperor at Nicomedia.

His martyrdom

On 24 February 303 AD, the Emperor Diocletian, issued an order that every Christian soldier in the army should be degraded and that every soldier was required to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods. George, when seeing this, distributed his wealth to the poor and confronted the emperor, declaring himself to be a Christian.

It is believed that the Emperor then tortured George in order to get him to deny his faith and convert, but George withstood this torture and refused to cave.

George was then executed in front of Nicomedia's city wall on April 23 303, where his courage and faith made him a martyr. His body was returned to Lydda for burial and his head later taken to Rome where it became interred in the church dedicated to him.

The legend

Stories of George’s strength and courage began to spread throughout Europe, his believed fight with a dragon becoming one of the best-known stories about him. George was first credited with the slaying of the dragon around the 12th century, but his name started to become known in England as early as the eighth century.

The legendary story about George and the Dragon is that St. George fought and killed a dragon on the flat topped Dragon Hill in Uffington, Berkshire, where it is said that no grass now grows where the dragon’s blood trickled down.

Although it was around the 12th century that Crusaders first invoked his name as an aid in battle, King Edward III didn’t make him the patron saint of England until 1350, where King Edward III formed the Order of the Garter in St. George’s name.

Stories surrounding our patron saint continued to be perpetuated and Shakespeare carved George’s name in the nation’s mind and history with the iconic line Henry V, when the King ends his pre-battle speech with the renowned phrase, ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!’.

The present day

St. George is now a highly celebrated saint in both Western and Eastern Christian churches and a huge number of patronages of St.George exist all over the world.

Since the 14th century, St.George has been both England’s patron saint and the protector of the royal family. His cross forms the England’s national flag and features within the Union Flag of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

St.George continues to be remembered and celebrated to this very day, with April 23 being a national day of celebration dedicated to the life, courage and martyrdom of St.George.

St.George's Day, also known as the Feast of Saint George, is celebrated not only in England, but in the several countries, nations, kingdoms and cities of which St.George is also the patron saint.

Although accounts of St.George’s life, death and encounters with dragons vary, he was, and still is known as a legendary man who overcame difficulties and fighting for what he believed in, making him not only a martyr, but an iconic figure who will continue to be celebrated for generations to come.