The Battle of Agincourt had been fought and won 184 years before William Shakespeare wrote Henry the Fifth. Sceptics have long claimed that as St. George was only made the patron saint of England after the battle, Shakespeare was wrong to have Henry include him when he made his rallying call to the troops on the eve of the battle. They could not be more wrong, for even in 1415 AD, St. George had been a major part of our history for over three hundred years.
The earliest record is in 1096 when inspired by St. George’s reputation for courage and chivalry, the Crusaders rode into battle carrying his pennant, a red cross on a white or silver background, or, wearing it on their breastplates.
In the year 1348 King Edward III established the Knights of the Garter, which is the oldest order of Chivalry in Europe. The Order of the Garter was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Edward the Confessor and St. George. The orders insignia consists of a collar and badge appendant known as the George, the Star, the Garter and the Sash with the Investment Badge called the lesser George. This is a gold and richly enamelled representation of St. George on horseback slaying the dragon.
In 1352 the College of St. George was established in Windsor, with six chorister boys and since then, St. George’s school has played an important role in the daily worship and on State Occasions in the Queen’s Free Chapel of St. George in Windsor Castle.
Delving into the facts, myths and legends that surround St. George, and believe me, there are plenty, the common thread that runs through them all, is that he must have been as popular in his day as say, David Beckham is today. Albeit I must add, but with no disrespect, I cannot see David Beckham’s reputation lasting for over 1,700 years!
First of all, with such a long history, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that our patron saint was born of good Anglo Saxon yeoman stock, but they would be mistaken. St. George was born in Cappadocia, which is now Turkey, about the year 280AD!
He was tall, fair, had great physical strength, and was extremely handsome and courageous.
He came from a military family and at the age of 17, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, he joined the Calvary regiment of the Roman army. His rise through the ranks was meteoric, and he soon found himself promoted to what in today’s army, would be roughly the equivalent of Colonel. Every man in his 1,000 strong regiment admired and respected him, and he also found himself a firm favourite of the Emperor.
At that time, Rome was going through a period of civil unrest, the outcome of which was the increasing influence of Christianity. However, Diocletian was not at all happy that the pagan traditions which had existed in Rome for centuries, were losing ground, and encouraged by his second in command Galerius, who also supported the Pagan religion, set about reviving them. On the pretext that the Christians were plotting to assassinate Galerius, Diocletian issued an edict that all Christian churches and scriptures were to be put to the torch, and anyone who did not renounce Christianity would forfeit their life.
St. George who was a devout Christian, defied the Emperor by marching into the city of Nicomedia, and tearing down the notice containing the edict. When Diocletian heard of St. George’s action, he ordered his arrest. At his trial, St. George made a courageous speech denouncing Diocletian for his cruelty and injustice, but the Emperor refused to rescind the edict, and fearing a rebellion, instructed that St. George be thrown in prison, and if he did not denounce Christianity, then be executed.
Despite being subjected to the vilest tortures imaginable, St. George defended his faith right up to the moment he was beheaded on the 23rd of April 303 AD.
Did he actually slay a dragon? Well, legend has it that near the town of Silene in Libya, a dragon had built its lair by the town’s only source of water. To lure it away, every day the townsfolk gave it a goat or a sheep. Eventually they had no more animals, so they turned to human sacrifices. The King ordered that no one should be immune, and the fairest way would be to draw lots. One day, the King’s daughter was selected. The story then relates how St. George hearing her pleas to be spared, rode up on his white charger, dismounted and fought the Dragon until it could fight no more. Then, using the Princess’s cloak, he dragged the wounded creature into the city, and slew it in front of the people. St. George was greeted as their saviour and the King offered him a bag of gold as a reward for saving his daughter. This he refused and asked that it be given to the poor.
For the title of this article I used words written by a great Englishman about our patron saint but let me leave you with more words written by Winston Churchill, another great Englishman, who was also called upon when our country was in peril. “There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word, which means more to me than any other. That word is England.”
So, on April 23rd, give three rousing cheers for St. George, and if you have his flag, wave it for all to see.