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Saint George’s Day – Who Was England’s Patron Saint?

Saint George’s Day – Who Was England’s Patron Saint?

Celebrated on April 23, the date of his death in 303 AD, Saint George’s Day is the feast day of Saint George and England’s official holiday. Here’s some facts you may not know!

Customs and Traditions

Saint George, a soldier from Cappadocian Greek (Central Turkey) was a member of the Praetorian Guard for the Roman emperor Diocletian. Honoured as a military saint since the Crusades, he is one of the most respected saints and martyrs in Christianity.

Saint George’s Day first became established during the Tudor period. This was when Saint George’s popularity was high at the time of the Crusades and the Hundred Years’ War.

Saint George portrait by Hans von Kulmbach, circa 1510
Saint George portrait by Hans von Kulmbach, circa 1510 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the early 15th Century Saint George’s Day was a major feast and national holiday in England. In fact celebrations were so grand they were on a similar scale as Christmas. However over time these grand celebrations had decreased, mainly towards the end of the 18th century after the union of England and Scotland.

Celebrations still take place today though, but on a smaller scale. These include pageants, eating traditional English food, Mummers’ plays, Morris dancing, Punch and Judy shows and flying the Saint George’s Cross.

Saint George's Day Mummers play
Saint George’s Day Mummers play (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Morris dancing in York, England
Morris dancing in York, England (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Saint George's Day Pageant in London, 2010
Saint George’s Day Pageant in London, 2010 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Though it has been campaigned for, Saint George’s Day is not yet a public holiday in England.

Saint George and the Dragon

The legendary story of Saint George and the Dragon is one that describes the Saint taming and slaying a dragon requiring human sacrifices. It results with him rescuing the next potential sacrifice, a princess.

Georgian text written in the 11th Century is the earliest record of Saint George slaying a dragon, which spread through the 12th Century via the crusades. The legend become popularised in the 13th Century due to Latin adaptions and it’s courtly setting of romantic chivalry.

Saint George and the Dragon Stained Glass Window, Church of St Mary the Virgin, South Darley, Derbyshire
Saint George and the Dragon stained glass window at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, South Darley, Derbyshire (Source: Flickr)

Nationalism

English Nationalists use the national flag of England, the Saint George’s Cross.

Far-right English nationalists initially used the flag, such as the British National Party (BNP) (founded in 1982) and more recently the English Defence League (EDL) (founded in 2009).

English Defence League (EDL) march in Newcastle
English Defence League (EDL) march in Newcastle (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

However, since the widespread use of the flag at sporting events during the 1990’s, the association with far-right nationalism has dropped. Now flown in private, public and by local authorities, the flag can be frequently seen across the country.

Saint George's Day, 2011 at Trafalgar Square, London
Saint George’s Day, 2011 at Trafalgar Square, London (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The association between far-right nationalism and the Saint George’s Cross can make celebrating Saint George’s Day difficult. However, the more distance between far-right nationalism, the Saint George’s Cross and Saint George’s Day can get, the less this will be an issue.

Child wearing Saint George's Cross hat
Child wearing Saint George’s Cross hat (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Saint George’s Day / Leydon Logo

Symbolising the flag of Saint George, the Leydon Logo has been adapted for Saint George’s Day.

Saint George’s flag is a red cross on a white background, similar to Saint David’s flag.

Often used to show affiliation, or unity to the country, or organisation occupying it, the canton space of the flag (the top hoist corner) is occupied with the Leydon Logo.

Common Wealth countries flags, such as Australia and New Zealand, are a good example of this, as the Union Jack occupies their flags canton space.

Saint Georges Day Leydon Logo
Saint Georges Day Leydon Logo

“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 Saint George!”

― William Shakespeare

How will you be celebrating? What traditions will you be participating in? Let us know in the comments!

Wishing you a very happy Saint George’s Day!

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