Saint George’s Day is celebrated on April 23rd in many parts of the world. It is not only the patron saint of Aragon or Russia, but also England. However, who was he? Did he really exist? According to popular thought, he was a Roman soldier, born in Syria and was an officer in the Guard of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. It was he, in fact, who ordered his execution for failing to renounce his Christian faith. His martyrdom led to him becoming one of the most venerated saints in Christianity.
Little is known about his early life. Some allege he was born in Cappadocia, Turkey, to Christian parents. His father died when he was 14 and his mother took him back to Palestine where she had been born. Another version says that his father was from Cappadocia and that he had been born in Palestine. Both parents’ families were noble Syrians and they gave him the Greek name Georgios. George’s father had been an officer in the Roman army so he followed in his footsteps.
There is no conclusive evidence that Saint George as a historical figure really existed. Historian George Gibbon asserts that the legend is based on George of Cappadocia, an infamous Arian bishop. Ralph Waldo Emerson in his book “English Traits” compared the legend to that of Amerigo Vespucci affirming that one was “an imposter” and the other “a thief”. Far from credible is George’s slaying of the Dragon and probably represents a symbolistic interpretation of a historical event long forgotten. There is some evidence to link the legend to Ancient Egyptian and Phoenician sources. A statue exists in which Horus can be seen fighting a dragon. In mythology, the Egyptian god Setekh killed his brother Osiris. His son, Horus, sought revenge and murdered Setekh. Both supposedly used lances.
His veneration goes back to the Crusades when several churches were erected in his name. He was well-known in the Byzantine Empire and by the 5th century, his name was venerated in areas of the Roman empire. In 494 he was canonised by Pope Gelasius I. In England, the Synod of Oxford declared Saint George’s Day a feast day. Strangely enough, Saint George has no shrine so there is no pilgrimage and no real connection with England. He became a battle cry during several wars including The Hundred Years’ War. “For George and for England” could be heard before battle charges.
Saint George is still a popular saint in England and something of a symbol of nationalistic spirit encompassing the best of English courage and unity.
Happy English learning!!