Saint of the week

St George, 23rd April

St George is the patron saint of England. He is also a patron of Venice, Genoa, Portugal, Catalonia and Istanbul, and of Italian cavalry.

There is a lack of historical evidence to offer an authentic portrait of the saint though it is generally acknowledged by scholars that he was a genuine martyr who suffered and died for his faith at Lydda (now Lod in modern day Israel) in the early 4th century during the severe persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Details of his Acts are recorded from the 5th century but they are palpably full of fable and magic as to not be taken seriously. The famous story of how he slew a dragon that was about to eat a king’s daughter dates from around the 12th century.

It has been widely speculated that this story derives from an image in Constantinople of Constantine killing a dragon, representing the Devil, which was misinterpreted by the Crusaders and later popularised by the Golden Legend of James de Voragine that was written in about 1260 and was later translated and published by William Caxton.

The early Acts of St George refer to him as an officer in the Roman army, however, and this may explain why he was later invoked as protector of the Christian armies of Byzantium.

The cult in his honour was flourishing in the Middle East in the 7th and 8th centuries and stories of his protecting role spread to England even before the Norman Conquest.

St George for England

Devotion of the English to St George became hugely popular with the onset on the Crusades after he and St Demetrius, a fellow “martyr knight”, reputedly appeared to help the Christian armies at the siege of Antioch in 1098.

King Richard I, the “Lion Heart”, a century later put his own armies under the protection of St George and the battle cry “St George for England!” was shouted by English soldiers from the 14th century.

In 1348 King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter with St George as the patron and in 1415 – after victory over France at Agincourt – the saint’s April 23rd feast was made into a national festival.
During the 17th and 18th centuries his feast was also a Holy Day of Obligation for English Catholics. The saint was recognised as Protector of England by Pope Benedict XIV in the mid-18th century.
In art, St George is usually depicted as a young man. He is sometimes paired with St Michael the Archangel, another patron of England.

Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints

(Picture of St George in stained glass taken by Simon Caldwell at Gawsworth Hall, near Macclesfield, Cheshire.)