5 Things You Didn’t Know About… St George’s Day
OK, so the history buffs among you probably already know some of these. But a straw poll at First Choice HQ revealed our knowledge of England’s patron saint is patchy at best, and what with it being St George’s Day, we thought it high time to brush up on the story. Here are some of the bits that surprised us along the way…
He was born in Turkey
Most accounts agree that St George was from Cappadocia, in the middle of modern-day Turkey. It’s a place of strangely shaped – but very pretty – mountains and rocks, like the so-called ‘Fairy Chimneys’. If you’re jetting off on a holiday to Turkey you can see the place for yourself on an excursion to Cappadocia.
He slayed a dragon (sort of)
OK, so everybody knows that bit of the story. But why? And how? According to the myths, the dragon was a plague carrier, maiden-eater, or water-poisoner, and St George killed him with the sign of the cross or a giant lance called Ascalon. The story made its way back to Europe via the Crusades and could come from a variety of places. It may be a Medieval version of an Ancient Greek legend, or the dragon might represent a pagan cult. Either way, seeing as dragons aren’t real, the story St George has become so famous for is pretty unlikely to be true.
He was resuscitated 3 times
At the age of around 17 St George joined the Roman Army. Emperor Diocletian knew George’s dad and the youngster quickly rose to the rank of Tribune – just one under a General – proving that it’s not what you know, but who you know. George was pretty good at what he did, and ended up as one of the Emperor’s own Imperial Guard. Later on, though, Emperor Diocletian had a change of heart and gave all Christians a choice – ditch Christianity and get on board with the Roman Gods, or die. St George chose death and was tortured – supposedly needing to be resuscitated up to 3 times in the process – then beheaded near Palestine around 303 AD.
He probably never visited England
“Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” is a famous line from Shakespeare who, co-incidentally, was born and died on St George’s Day. But St George never had much to do with England, and may not even have visited Blighty in his lifetime. He only became England’s patron saint in the 14th century, having taken over from St Edmund the Martyr, and it was another 200 or so years before his red cross was officially picked up as the English flag.
He’s a popular guy
St George’s Day isn’t just celebrated in England. He’s also the patron saint of Georgia, Malta, Ethiopia, Lithuania and Palestine, to name but a few. And more recently he’s been adopted as the patron saint of scouting, so don’t be surprised to see a flock of neckerchief-sporting scouts parading through a town near you.
We’ll admit, we’re no experts when it comes to history, so we’ve had a stab at retracing St George’s past based on the most common myths and legends around. If we were to give our patron saint a modern-day makeover, though, who would you like to see in the role? Answers in the boxes below…