Who Was St George?

Happy St George's Day! When you think of St George, what is the first thing that comes to mind? We all know St. George was the courageous man who saved princesses, slew dragons and vanquished evil spirits. How much do you know about the man?

Here’s a bit about what we know about St George:


Who was St. George?

George was following in his father’s footsteps and joined the army. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a tribune not long afterwards; then he became an officer for Rome’s emperor Diocletian himself.


When is St. George’s Day?

Today! 23 April has been dedicated to St George for the last 811 years, since the year 1222 AD.


What do we celebrate on St George’s Day?

We celebrate this shining example of courage whose victory over his fiery opponent renewed hope in humanity’s ability to triumph over adversity!


Why is St. George’s Day on 23rd April?

This is the day of his martyrdom, i.e. when he was killed for his beliefs.


How did St. George die?

In 303, Emperor Diocletian ordered the systematic persecution of Christians across the Roman Empire. Saint George was ordered to take part in the persecution, but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticised the imperial decision. As news spread of his rebellion against the persecutions St. George realised that, as both Diocletian and Galerius were in the city, it would not be long before he was arrested. He prepared for the event by disposing of his property to the poor and he freed his slaves. Enraged, Diocletian ordered the torture and beheading of Saint George. He was beheaded in Nicomedia (an ancient city in what is now Turkey) on April 23, 303 A.D.

Christians soon honoured St. George as a martyr, and there are churches built in his honour all across Lydda (a small Palestinian city now known simply by its Israeli moniker Lod). His mother’s home was also located here; it became an important place for pilgrims who came from far away to worship at the saint’s feet! Of course this veneration didn’t stop with just Palestine or even the Roman Empire.


Why is St. George the patron saint of England?

Devotion to Saint George became popular in Europe in the c. 10th. He was a popular early Christian martyr elsewhere in Christendom and was the patron saint of soldiers. However, Saint George became the patron saint of England in the 15th century when in 1415 AD when Henry V won the battle of Agincourt  “Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’ said King Henry in Henry V by Shakespeare.


Why is St. George’s Day not a public holiday in England?

Good question! It used to be. St George’s Day was once celebrated in England as widely as Christmas. But it seems to have waned after England had united with Scotland on 1 May 1707. In recent times, there has been a push, involving campaigns and petitions, to make the day a public holiday in England as St David’s Day is in Scotland.


Did St. George ever come to England?

Short answer: no. He was the personal guard to Emperor Diocletian who never came to England.

Having a little dig around I think this question comes from is a song, originally a poem that now know as Jerusalem but actually called “And did those feet in ancient time” which was written by the Londoner poet, painter and printmaker William Blake (born in Soho and buried in Bunhill Fields) c.1808.

It wasn’t until 1916 when musician Hubert Parry, (born in Bournemouth, lived in Kensington) set the words to music. It was Sir Edward Elgar (born in Worcestershire, lived in Kensington) who did the orchestration. It’s often considered the unofficial national anthem for England.

St. George is also patron saint of soldiers, archers, riders and saddlers, farmers and field workers and also helps those suffering from leprosy, plague and syphilis.

You may be surprised that there’s only one statue in London dedicated to St George. To find out more listen to episode 52 St George’s Day on our London History podcast to find out more.


Episode 52: St George's Day

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