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St George’s Day 2020: how the dragon-slayer became the patron saint of England

St George’s Day is fast approaching, offering us all a chance to fly English flags, celebrate our country’s heritage and honour the patron saint of England.

While St Patrick’s Day, St David’s Day and St Andrew’s Day are all celebrated with patriotic community events, St George’s Day has become less significant over time and has left the nation somewhat confused about how to recognise the day.

But, who was the legendary figure and why is he the nation’s patron saint? From the history behind the dragon-slayer, to the global celebrations, here is everything you need to know about St George’s Day.

When is St George’s Day 2020?

St George’s Day, the patron saint day of England, falls each year on April 23. Recognised annually on the anniversary of St George’s death, the day was previously a national holiday and was once celebrated as widely as Christmas.

Since the 18th century, after England and Scotland united in 1707, celebrations have diminished, although some parades and public activities continue to be held every year. 

Who was St George?

Despite being adopted as the patron saint of England, St George wasn’t actually English, and most likely never stepped foot in the country. Born around AD 280, in what is now known as Cappadocia, Turkey, St George was a Christian martyr and became a soldier in the Roman army, later progressing to the role of a personal guard for the Emperor Diocletian.

The emperor was one of the leaders of the Great Persecution of Christians, where churches were destroyed, scriptures were burnt and followers of the religion were prohibited from joining the army and assembling for worship.

But his personal guard, St George, protested against the persecution and remained dedicated to his Christian faith, consequently facing imprisonment and torture. He was later beheaded in Palestine on April 23, AD 303.

His head was taken to, and stored, in the church dedicated to him in Rome, and the rest of his body was buried in Lod, Israel.

His strength, courage and loyalty to his faith soon spread around Europe, and it even inspired his wife, who apparently became Christian, and also faced execution.

Fighting a dragon and saving a princess

As well as his army background and dedication to his faith, St George is famous for fighting a dragon, which commonly symbolised the Devil during the Middle Ages.

Legend suggests St George fought a dragon and saved a princess in the town of Silene – although this is most likely a myth.

According to legend, the only well in Silene was guarded by a dragon and each day, residents had to make human sacrifices in order to access the water.

A princess was the next person to be sacrificed and on the day she was due to be killed, St George bravely fought the dragon to save her.

After St George successfully killed the dragon, the people of Silene were finally granted free access to the well, and in gratitude, they turned to Christianity.

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