St George’s Day, also known as the Feast of St George, is in England usually observed on April 23, which is believed to be the anniversary of George’s death in AD 303. The date of the observance, however, may change due to the date of Easter. Church of England rules eliminate the possibility of celebrating any saint’s day between Palm Sunday and the Sunday after Easter Day. If the date of the observance collides with Easter, it is moved to the Monday after the second Sunday of Easter.
In England, first mentions of St George can be found in the documents dated back to the 8th and 9th century. It is now known that he was born in the land known today as Cappadocia in Turkey. He used to be a soldier in the Roman army, but later had the role of Emperor Diocletian’s personal guide. However, he quickly became a Christian martyr, for he used to protest against his ruler’s engagement in the Great Persecution of Christians. His loyalty to the Christian faith made him face imprisonment, torture, and finally death. Until the High Middle Ages, however, he did not play an immensely important role for England. He was known as a warrior saint during the time of Crusades. Around 1348 St George received a special position from King Edward III, who had established the Order of the Garter in his name. From that moment, St George became the official patron saint and a special protector of England and all English people. He became an extremely important person in England, although he had probably never visited this land.
As nearly every patron saint in Great Britain, St George is also associated with various myths and legends. The most popular one suggests that in the town of Silene there was a dragon that used to block access to the only well in the town. For this reason, the people of Silene had to make human sacrifices in exchange for the fresh water. On the day the princess was due to be sacrificed, St George showed up in town and bravely fought the dragon. He killed the creature, which at that time commonly symbolised the Devil, and saved the princess giving the people of Silene free access to the well.
St George’s Day used to be a major feast and a national holiday in England. It was celebrated even as widely as Christmas. By the end of the 18th century, however, after the reunion of England and Scotland, the observance has become less significant. Today April 23 is not a bank holiday in England, but it is still observed in different ways. The most important symbol of the day is St George’s cross that can also be seen in the flag of England. There are also some parades, music performances and public events aiming at commemorating the patron saint of England. Most of them take place in London. It is also a common practice to wear a red rose on St George’s Day – another symbol connected with the legend of killing the dragon and saving the princess.
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Shakespeare also took care of St George not to be forgotten. In his play, Henry V, the famous poet made his title character utter renowned words: “Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George”. The play highlights King Henry V’s special devotion to St George. It is believed that the patron saint of England had appeared to the English during the battle of Agincourt in 1415. This mention might also be somehow personal for the author – it is very possible that Shakespeare’s birthday is April 23, the date of St George’s death. Shakespeare also died on April 23, so this date constitutes a strong connection between these two important figures.
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