St. George visited Eastleigh early this year.
Yesterday Eastleigh town centre celebrated everything about old England with an enjoyable family fun day – celebrating the Patron Saint of England, St. George who apparently single-handedly slayed the Dragon.
The day included live medieval re-enactments courtesy of the Black Knight Historical and falconry displays by South Wilts at Leigh Road Recreational Ground. The Eastleigh Museum team showed “real” dragon artefacts to touch and have paper dragons to make and fly.
St. George probably never slayed a dragon
St. George’s Day falls this week (23 April). As well as England, St. George is patron saint of Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia. He is also patron saint of scouts, soldiers, archers, farmers and shepherds, and sufferers of skin disease.
St. George was born in what is now Eastern Turkey in AD 270, to Christian parents. He became a Roman soldier, but protested against the Roman’s persecution of Christians. He was imprisoned, tortured and eventually beheaded (on 23 April 303), but never denied his Christian faith.
Ironically, he probably never even visited England. He probably never slayed a dragon either – because they never existed.
The first such story didn’t even appear until about 900 years after he died.
He became popular in England in the 13th century. The familiar emblem of a red cross on a white background was worn on the tunics of Richard the Lion Heart’s soldiers so they could be recognised in battle.
I assume this recognition was to prevent them from accidentally killing each other rather than to make them easy targets for the enemy.
St. George was associated with gallantry, bravery and honour and when Edward III (reigned 1327-77) founded the Order of the Garter to champion these ideas, he dedicated it to St. George.
Emblem of the Order of the Garter
The above is the emblem of the order of the garter, with its prominent St. George’s cross.
The motto strictly translates to something like “evil to he who thinks evil” which – like most strict translations – doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
I prefer to think of it as “only bad people have bad thoughts”, or, to turn it round, “all is pure to those who are pure”.
From here, St. George became the patron saint of England – replacing St. Edmund who had previously held that role.
In general the dragon-slaying legend is that a town (or country) was being ravaged by a dragon. A princess was going to be sacrificed to the dragon (because it had already eaten all the other young women), and St. George killed the dragon to save the princess. I expect that they then probably married and they all lived happily ever after.
During the fight the dragon poured poison over St. George, but he was able to avoid the effects with the help of a magic orange tree. This could explain his association with sufferers of skin disease. The fact that he was a Roman soldier could explain his military patronages. But I can’t see any obvious link in the legend with farming.
Despite being the patron saint, very little is done to mark St. George’s day in England – in fact, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are probably more common than St. George’s. Apparently only about 20% of English people even know that 23rd April is St. George’s day. Some countries where he is patron saint have a public holiday, but in England it is a normal working day.
Should there be more awareness and celebration of our patron saint, or is it all a bit superfluous in this day and age?
(I didn’t see any dragon during my brief visit in Eastleigh, but these origami dragons that Janet made will do.)