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St George’s Day April 23rd St George is, of course, the Patron Saint of England, but did you know that he is also the Patron Saint of Portugal, Greece, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and Georgia, as well as Palestine, Ethiopia and Canada? He is the patron saint of soldiers, cavalry, saddlers, farmers, Boy Scouts and butchers, and sufferers from leprosy, plague and syphilis. He is also the patron saint of archers, hence the famous speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act 3 at the Battle of Agincourt. ‘I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and, upon this charge Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!’ Very little is known of the actual man, though according to versions of his story current in the Eastern Church from the 5th century, he was a tribune in the Roman army and was beheaded by Diocletian for protesting against the Emperor’s persecution of Christians. He was probably first known in England around the 8th century, when, according to the Apocryphal Acts of St George, translated into Anglo-Saxon, he visited Caerleon and Glastonbury while serving in the Roman army. George was adopted as the patron saint of soldiers after he was said to have appeared to the Crusader Army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. When Richard I was campaigning in Palestine in 1191-92 he put the army under the protection of St George, and his banner, the red cross of a martyr on a white background, appeared on the uniforms and shields of the soldiers. This later became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy. On April 23rd 1222 the Synod of Oxford declared a holiday, and he was acknowledged as the Patron Saint of England by the end of the 14th century. In the year of Agincourt, 1415, Archbishop Chinchilla raised St George’s Day to a great feast to be observed like Christmas Day. By 1778 it had reverted to a simple day of devotion for Catholics. The legend of St George and the Dragon was popularised by the Legenda Aurea, (The Golden Legend), by Jacoba de Voragine in 1265. This was well received in England, as there is a similar story in Anglo-Saxon literature. The dragon made its nest in the spring of

water on which a community depended. To attract it away first sheep, then virgins, chosen by drawing lots, were fed to it. Eventually the princess was chosen. St George appeared, protected himself with the sign of the Cross, slew the dragon and rescued the princess. The grateful citizens converted to Christianity. St George became a stock figure in the secular miracle plays, derived from pagan sources, which were performed during the winter and early spring. In 1348 Edward III adopted George as the principal patron of his new order of chivalry, the Knights of the Garter. The objective of the Order , whose insignia depicts St George killing the Dragon, was probably to focus the efforts of England on further Crusades to conquer the Holy Land. Although the cult of St George was suppressed at the Reformation, St George’s Chapel at Windsor remains the official seat of the Order. In 1940 King George VI instituted the George Cross, a silver cross with St George slaying the dragon on one side, the highest civilian award for gallantry. 16th century painting - St George slaying the dragon



57 Spring 2009  
57 Spring 2009  

2009 Melbourn Magazine 57