St George's Day: When is it, who is England's patron saint – and why isn't it a bank holiday??

Scientists have haggled over the exact details of the birth of Saint George for hundreds of years

Jamie Campbell
Thursday 23 April 2015 09:32 BST
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“Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!’”

So howls King Henry V at the climax of the great Harfleur speech in Shakespeare’s play.

But who really was the St George that Prince Hal uses to so inspire his men?

As St George’s Day approaches, we ask: who actually was the man, why is he our patron saint and why on earth don’t we get a day off?

Who was St George?

Scientists have haggled over the exact details of the birth of St George for hundreds of years but it is generally put at around 280AD. He was born in the town of Lydda, then in the Roman territory of Syria Palestina and in modern terms around 15 kilometres south of Tel Aviv to two Christian parents.

He went on to become one of the finest soldiers in the Roman army but, in AD 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested. George, it seems, wasn’t too happy about this and approached the emperor to renounce the edict.

Diocletian tried as hard as he could to convert the great soldier to worship of the Roman gods by offering him gifts of land, money and slaves. However, George stood strong and stolidly turned all of these down.

Diocletian realised he had no choice but to make the decision to have George horrifically tortured before being executed. The methods of torture apparently included laceration of wheel of swords before he was eventually decapitated. Not before George had donated his entire wealth to the poor though and, for the actions of his life, he was venerated as a Saint.

But why is George the Patron Saint of England?

The decision to make St George the patron saint of England was predominantly taken by the Plantagenet King Edward III, who reigned from 1327 to 1377. Edward was a big personal fan of the story of George apparently and thus decided to make the famous St George’s cross his military banner.

Under the banner, the English army won victories at Halidon Hill, Bannockburn and Crécy. It became quickly associated with English military success and, after the flag was carried at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, Saint George’s Day was made into a national feast day.

So why don’t we get a day off?

All the other countries in the UK seem to get days off on their Saint’s Day - but why not England?

It seems to be as simple as the tradition of St George’s Day waning somewhat following the union of Scotland and England at the end of the 18th century. The fact that the day used to be a celebration simply seemed to fall out of the memories of politicians and the people.

However recent support for the idea of a national holiday on St. George’s Day have been growing and has been discussed in the Commons every year since 2006. It may be the case that we could all be falling back in love with a patron saint again soon. If only for the day off.

We do have be slightly wary with bank holidays though because according to an April 2012 report by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, each one can cost the economy £2.4 billion in lost work,

Where did that story about the dragon come from?

So we all know that St. George is famous for slaying a big old fire-breathing dragon, but where did this myth stem from? The earliest known depictions of this story come from 10th or 11th Century Cappadocia and Georgia in which George dispatched a giant monster living in lake in a town called “Silene” in Libya.

The incident was included in an “encyclopedia” called Speculum Historiale around that appeared in the 13th century and was based on the world of Helinand of Froidment, a chronicler of the 12th Century.

The popularity of this work cemented the place of the tale which has gradually become part of Christian tradition relating to St. George ever since.

Watch St George Day on London Live, Thursday at 10pm

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