St George has been celebrated as the patron saint of England since the 14th century.
He was born in the third century in Cappadocia, Turkey and became a high-ranking soldier in the Roman army. After converting to Christianity, St George protested against the army’s harsh treatments of Christians, which led to him being sentenced to death. His torture and execution made him a Christian martyr and St George was canonized as a saint by Pope Gelasius I.
St George grew in popularity in England during the time of the crusades as he symbolised Christian chivalry. Although he never visited England, his story of self-sacrifice and virtue spread, making him popular with English kings and knights of the time. He was officially chosen as the patron saint of England in 1350 by King Edward III.
The most popular story of St George depicts him defeating a dragon.
The story goes that he travelled to the town of Silene, Libya to slay a dragon that was terrorising the citizens. Upon witnessing his bravery, the villagers held a huge feast in his honour. This tale was meant to symbolise the battle between good and evil with the dragon representing the devil.
St George was out walking, He met a dragon on a hill,
It was wise and wonderful, Too glorious to kill
It slept amongst the wild thyme, Where the oxlips and violets grow
Its skin was a luminous fire, That made the English landscape glow
Its tears were England’s crystal rivers, Its breath the mist on England’s moors
Its larder was England’s orchards, Its house was without doors
St George was in awe of it, It was a thing apart
He hid the sleeping dragon, Inside every English heart
So on this day let’s celebrate, England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape, Lakes shivering with delight
Let’s celebrate St George’s Day, The dragon in repose;
The brilliant lark ascending, The yew, the oak, the rose
Brian Patten 2008