May 18, 2022

Happy St. George’s Day 2022!

The 16th century Parish Church of St Mary in Morchard Bishop, Devon, England proudly flew the St. George’s flag on April 23 2021. Photo by R. Fogg.

UPDATED 4/24: In response to our article about St. George’s Day published yesterday, LymeLine reader Russell Fogg kindly sent us the photo above from his 2021 travels in England.

While he was visiting the village of Morchard Bishop in mid-Devon, he spotted the flag of St. George flying atop the 95 ft. tower of the 16th century Parish Church of St Mary. Interestingly, although the village has a population of only 975, it is home to two churches!

Yesterday was St. George’s Day!

And for those who may not know, St. George’s Day is the equivalent for the English of St. Patrick’s Day for the Irish (and Americans!)

It has long been interesting to the author of this article (who is English by birth) as to why St. Patrick’s Day is so widely celebrated in the US while St. George’s Day is just another day on the calendar.

St. George, (who incidentally is also the patron saint of Russia, Portugal, Georgia, Greece, Ethiopia and Palestine) is believed to have been born in Turkey in the third century AD and subsequently became a Roman soldier.  He rose up through the ranks of the Roman army, eventually becoming a personal guard to the Emperor Diocletian.

George was executed April 23, AD 303 for refusing to deny his Christian faith and is buried in the town of Lod in Israel.

Centuries later, St. George’s emblem — a red cross on a white background — was adopted by Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) of England, who only reigned for 10 years from 1189 to 1199. St. George officially became the patron saint of England around 1348, after King Edward III established the Order of the Garter in his name.

But as every English schoolchild learns, St. George is most famous for slaying a dragon. The irony of George being both the patron saint of England and famous for slaying a dragon is that it is highly unlikely the gentleman ever visited England and almost certain that he never fought a dragon!

This painting by Raphael depicts Saint George slaying the Dragon. It is part of the Google Art and is a Public Domain image.

According to legend, the only well in the town of Silene was guarded by a dragon. In order to obtain water, the inhabitants of the town had to offer a human sacrifice every day to the dragon. The person to be sacrificed was chosen by lot.

On the day that St George was visiting, a princess had been selected to be sacrificed. However, he killed the dragon, saved the princess and gave the people of Silene access to water. In gratitude, they converted to Christianity.

It is generally thought that the dragon represents a certain type of pagan belief that included the sacrifice of human beings.

The English are not generally regarded as a very patriotic nation and in a recent poll, England was found to be the least patriotic country in Europe with only one in three citizens knowing the date of St. George’s Day.

One might say, to quote from the famous lyrics of the song titled, “A Song of Patriotic Prejudice,” and written by the acclaimed duo of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann back in 1977:

“The English are moral, the English are good
And clever and modest and misunderstood …”

This famous (in England) song explains (almost) everything about the English and is performed in this video by the King’s Singers. And many thanks to Peter Ewart for providing this memory!

The St. George’s cross has, however, experienced something of a resurgence recently with the flag being used as a national symbol by fans of the English national football (soccer), rugby and cricket teams. At international matches, flags and scarves bearing this cross are worn and people paint it on their faces.

The red cross on the white background has been the official flag of England for centuries, but the Union Flag — more commonly known as the Union Jack — is a combination of St George’s cross, St Andrew’s cross (of Scotland), and St Patrick’s cross (of Ireland), is the national flag of the United Kingdom. Notably, Wales has no representation on the Union Jack.

April 23 is also supposedly both the birth (1564) and definitely the death date (1616) of the world-famous playwright William Shakespeare. ¬†This day is also the anniversary of the death of the great English poet William Wordsworth (of “Daffodils” fame) on April 23, 1850.

Visit this link if you would like to hear the rousing battle cry from Shakespeare’s Henry V, which mentions St. George, and this one if you would like to learn more about St. George’s Day.

Editor’s Note: Parts of this article were first published April 23, 2020 on LymeLine.com.

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