St George’s Day

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Today is St George’s Day and while it is celebrated by the several nations, kingdoms, countries, and cities of which Saint George  is the patron saint,  St George’s Day is mainly known as England’s National Day. 23rd April is the traditionally accepted date of Saint George’s death in 303 AD and it should also be noted that today was also the day that William Shakespeare died in 1616.

St George’s Day was a major feast and national holiday in England on a par with Christmas  from the early 15th century but the seemed to wane by the end of the 18th century after the union of England and Scotland. In recent years the popularity of St George’s Day appears to be increasing gradually and although Saint George is the Patron Saint of England, it is believed that St George was not actually English. It is far from certain that he ever visited England, although legend has it that St George was born in Coventry at Cauldon Castle in Wyken.

The traditional custom at this time is to wear a red rose in one’s lapel, but with changes in fashion this is no longer common and it is becoming more popular to fly or adorn the St. George’s Cross Flag  in some way. Another custom is for the hymn ” Jerusalem” to be sung in cathedrals, churches and chapels on St George’s Day, or on the Sunday closest to it.

Other countries that celebrate St George’s Day include Portugal, Cypress, Greece, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Macedonia.  It is also celebrated in the old kingdoms and counties of the Crown of Aragon in Spain… Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia.

Saint George & The Dragon

The episode of St George and the Dragon was a legend brought back by the Crusaders. The earliest known depiction of the legend is from early eleventh-century Cappadocia and the earliest known surviving narrative text is an eleventh-century Georgian text.

In the fully-developed Western version, which developed as part of the Golden Legend, a dragon makes its nest at the spring  that provides water for the city of “Silene”  in Libya or the city of Lydda, depending on the source. Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon at first a sheep, and if no sheep can be found, then a maiden must go instead of the sheep. The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happens to be the princess. The monarch  begs for her life to be spared, but to no avail. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears Saint George on his travels. He faces the dragon, protects himself with the sign of the cross, slays the dragon, and rescues the princess. The grateful citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

The reality is a little different….

It is likely that Saint George was born to a Christian noble family in Lydda, Palestine during the late third century between about 275 AD and 285 AD, and he died in Micomedia.  His father, Gerontius, was a Roman army official from Cappadocia  and his mother was from Palestine. They were both Christians and from noble families of Anici, so by this the child was raised with Christian beliefs. They decided to call him Georgius (Latin) or Geōrgios (Greek), meaning “worker of the land”. At the age of 14, George lost his father; a few years later, George’s mother, Polychronia, died and some Eastern accounts give the names of his parents as Anastasius and Theobaste.

It was at this time that George decided to go to Nicomedia, the imperial city of that time, and present himself to Emperor Diocletian to apply for a career as a soldier. Diocletian welcomed him with open arms, as he had known his father, Gerontius — one of his finest soldiers. By his late 20s, George was promoted to the rank of Tribunus  and stationed as an imperial guard of the Emperor at Nicomedia.

In the year AD 302, Diocletian (influenced by Galerius) issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Pagan gods. But George objected and with the courage of his faith approached the Emperor and ruler. Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best Tribune and the son of his best official, Gerontius. George loudly renounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and Tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Pagan gods. The Emperor made many offers, but George never accepted.

Recognizing the futility of his efforts, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have him executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation  before Nicomedia’s city wall, on April 23, 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honor him as a martyr.

So, if you’re in Orlando today, don’t be surprised if you see the famous white flag with a red cross flying at full mast. The origin of the St George’s Cross came from the earlier plain white tunics worn by the early crusaders and more and more of our English visitors are choosing to recognize and honor the day.

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