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St George’s Day

Most people have heard of St George, yet only one in five people know that St George’s Day falls on the 23rd April. Although he is the patron saint of England, few people celebrate this national day.

St George is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers in Catholic tradition and is a prominent military saint. Back in the 15th century, St George’s Day was a major holiday, something akin to celebrating Christmas. Everyone joined in the festivities and celebrated 23 April with a national holiday and feasting.

Paolo Uccello - Saint George, the Princess, and the Dragon (1460) (c) Cea via Flickr
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By the 18th century, the popularity of St George’s Day had declined, perhaps due to the union between England and Scotland which meant that people began to view themselves as British rather than English.

Another problem was that St George was actually a Roman soldier with little or no connection with England, and finally, let’s face it; dragons are the stuff of fairytales -- aren’t they?

The Legend of St George and the Dragon

There are many different renditions of the legend of St George killing the dragon, but the majority of them adhere to the same main points. The icon of a dragon was often used to depict the devil, and the story of St George represents the victory of good over evil.

St George was a Greek officer in the Roman army back in the 3rd century. Legend has it that during his travels in North Africa he came across a town being intimidated by a dragon. Every day they tried to pacify the dragon by offering a young girl as a sacrifice, and finally the king’s daughter was about to meet her fate.

St George's Day Celebratios (c) Gregg Heywood via Flickr
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St George was determined to kill the dragon and save the life of the princess, so he journeyed to the area where the dragon lived. When he arrived, the dragon rushed from his cave breathing fire and roaring with a fearsome sound that echoed around the valley like thunder. Although tiny by comparison, St George bravely attacked and struck the dragon with his lancet. The dragon’s scales were so hard that the weapon shattered and George was knocked from his horse.

He managed to roll under a tree which had magical properties and protected him from the dragon’s venom. Once he had regained his strength, St George used his sword to attack the dragon, but the dragon poured venom on him and split his armour. Again George took refuge under the magic tree and then bombarded the dragon a third time, stabbing it under its wing where there were no protective scales. The dragon fell down lifeless and the town (and the princess) were saved.

 Gent holds a rose as he watches a play about St George and the dragon at the St George's Day festival at London's Covent Garden (c) Garry Knight via Flickr
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Ways to Celebrate St George’s Day

English Heritage hosts several events and pageants such as the St George’s Day Festival at Wrest Park. Expect jousting knights, equestrian displays and the chance to join in the recreated battle between St George and the fearsome dragon.

Kenilworth Castle, Dover Castle, Beeston Castle and Clifford’s Tower in York all have mediaeval fairs or dragon trails to take part in.

However, the traditional way to celebrate St George’s Day is by wearing a red rose in your buttonhole. See how many you spot on St Georges Day!

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