The story of St. George
Most of us grow up with the story of St George and the heroic tale of him slaying a dragon. But how close is this to who he really was, and why do we actually celebrate him?
Who was St George?
You may think that because George is the Patron Saint of England he must have been born here, but actually, he is from the Middle East. According to the legend, St George was a Roman soldier born in what is now Turkey. At the time - around 280AD - it was called Syria Palaestina.
George was a Greek Christian born into a wealthy family and when he was old enough he became a soldier in the retinue of Emperor Diocletian.
In 303AD, Diocletian decided to throw all Christian soldiers out of the army, and Roman soldiers would be forced to make the traditional pagan sacrifice. This was an attempt to address the growing influence of Christianity in the area but George refused.
Instead, he declared himself a Christian and denounced the edict. Although the Diocletian tried to bribe him with money and even land, George remained determined. Unfortunately his bravery wasn't rewarded and he was beheaded on 23 April 303.
So where do the dragons come in?
The dragon, in reality, is a metaphor for George's defeat of Satan who was trying to turn him away from God. The myth of an actual dragon was first told by the medieval Eastern Orthodox Church and brought to Europe by the Crusaders. The story focuses on a town that had a plague-infected dragon living in it, which was killing the locals. To stave off its hunger, the people fed it sheep and then children until the King's daughter was chosen as a sacrifice. Luckily for the pair of them, St George was riding past and offered to slay the dragon if the entire town converted to Christianity. They did and the King built a church in the spot where the dragon had been killed.
King Edward III made St George England's official saint when he came to the throne in 1327 to try and rebuild the country after his father's bad reign. Patron saints don't need to be from the country they are honouring and, instead, are supposed to embody the characteristics of its countrymen. St George is also the saint of Portugal, Venice, Beirut, Malta, Ethiopia, Georgia, the Palestinian territories, Serbia and Lithuania.
How to celebrate this year?
As the capital, there's no better place to celebrate the Patron Saint of England than London itself. Here are some of the best ways to mark the day of St George if you are spending the weekend in The City.
Each year, the Mayor of London hosts a Feast of St George in Trafalgar Square that is open to the public. The annual event sees stalls line the iconic square, allowing you to taste a range of traditional English food inspired by the 13th-century myth. The red and white decorated streets will also be host to a variety of games, music and performance that are completely free to take part in.
As well as being the Patron Saint of a number of countries, George is also the Patron Saint of Farmers, meaning it's a fantastic excuse to sample some local produce during your stay in London.
If this sounds like your type of thing, then look no further than Borough Market this 23 April. It will be hosting its own feast to mark St George's Day between 12 and 4pm on the Sunday itself. As well as having a traditional English influence, the event will also be celebrating the Catalonian identity as George is also the Patron Saint of this Spanish region.
Traders will be selling special themed products on the day, alongside free cookery demonstrations, theatre productions, and the outstanding Folk Dance Remixed who will be bringing their unique fusion of folk and hip-hop dance.
V&A Museum is hosting a range of things to do over St George's Day over at its Bethnal Green-based Museum of Childhood. Perfect for the whole family, there will be a variety of activities to get involved in. From song, dance and instrumental performances by the Trad Academy, to arts and crafts, there will be plenty for you and your loved ones to do.
Image credit:Violette Nlandu Ngoy via iStock