‘St. George’s Day’ is an event that doesn’t usually feature that heavily on the student calendar. It is typically overshadowed by everybody’s favourite national saint celebration ‘St. Patrick’s Day’, which seems to attract a very large student fan base annually and is immensely popular throughout England. The fact that the English public has decided to embrace the national saint day of a neighbouring country and transform it into a Guinness fuelled massacre (in which we all get rewarded oversized hats for drinking large quantities of booze) is a true testament to our innate impertinence. That however, is a different story.
April 23rd sees the celebration of our patron saint ‘George’ or ‘Georgius’ if you’re Latin. The initial image that often springs to mind when considering this ‘George’ character is almost always the same for everybody; a man dressed in armour with a red cross on his chest who yields an inappropriately large lance. Legend has it that George managed to slay a ferocious dragon singlehandedly, so as to rescue a fair maiden from the clutches of the beast. Such an image correlates excellently with the general English perception and expectation of themselves as a nation (brave, heroic and valiant). You could therefore suggest that George fits the bill perfectly as the Patron Saint of England, in his portrayal and representation of true ‘Englishness’ (sense the English sarcasm, something we are actually renowned for).
‘Anybody who believes in dragons these days, needs to be cremated with a flamethrower.’
Sarcasm aside, you may treat the legend of ‘George and the dragon’ with a certain amount of scepticism and you’d be correct to do so. Anybody who believes in dragons these days needs to be cremated with a flamethrower. The dragon tale is one which first appeared in the 15th century, some 1200 years after St. George’s death and thus, bears no relevance to his actual life. So who was this George fellow? And what exactly did he achieve to be acknowledged as such an honourable figure, that he should be merited with the title of a ‘saint’?
Some historians will tell you that St. George never even existed and was merely a mythical character created by storytellers in order to aid the projection of moral messages and values (sound familiar?). However, others will tell you that he most definitely did exist…
According to interpretation of historical record, he was reportedly a Roman military soldier originally born in Syria or maybe Turkey or maybe even Israel (not England you might notice) in around 250AD, who eventually went on to stand as an imperial guard for the Roman Emperor at the time. Unfortunately for him ‘Georgius’ held Christian beliefs, which seemingly contradicted the Roman ideology in current circulation and hence, George was summoned to either convert to Roman beliefs or be executed. Obviously a man of principle, George proclaimed his love for ‘Jesus Christ’ and was consequently sentenced to death.
‘Resulting in him being resuscitated a total of three times.’
It should probably be highlighted that this was no straightforward or ordinary death. Poor old Georgie was first tortured (namely by a wheel of swords instrument, resulting in him being resuscitated a total of three times during numerous bouts of pain infliction) before finally being executed via decapitation. Ever the kind gent, he also reportedly gave all of his riches to the poor upon hearing of his fate.
It seems that George’s martyrdom, generosity and a certain amount of mythological propaganda, have propelled him into the hall of fame of history and his accomplishments in life were deemed sufficient enough for him to be granted ‘saint’ status in a number of religions and cultures across the globe. Many people don’t realise that he is regarded as a patron saint in a number of other countries and provinces as well as England, including Georgia (aptly), Ethiopia, Greece, Palestine, Iraq, India, Bulgaria, Catalonia and Israel. His mass influence is unmatched and he is one of only a small communion of saints (yes, ‘communion’ is the collective noun for saints) who features heavily in both Western and Eastern religions. He is also recognised as the patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry, chivalry, farms and field workers, riders and saddlers and overlooks care for those suffering from diseases such as leprosy, plague and syphilis. Quite an impressive CV for a dead bloke.
His impact is still felt in the physical realm today all over the world, as many countries feature his ‘red cross’ emblem on their national flag; most famously England. People will often feel a patriotic urge when they see the English flag (no doubt it will hang out of many a window during this summers European football championships) and it could be contended that St. George’s symbol represents a part of our national heritage and culture. In truth however, what it actually represents in the first instance is a man who never once set foot in our country during his short life. The flag was also later adopted as a battle symbol during the murderous Crusades whilst we attempted to wipe out the entire Muslim race in the name of ‘God’. You can almost feel the patriotism seeping out of your pores with every sentence and there are many calls to review the current use of the St. George’s cross as our flag and indeed St. George himself as our patron saint. After all, England is arguably and almost certainly a very different nation than it was back in the 16th century when the flag was first implemented. The attitudes of its people, its political structure and its social fabric have undergone monumental change during the period since.
Whether you can justify the use of an icon to represent England that has no attachment to our nation, other than a mutual archaic religious connotation is probably a question worth asking. But for now, it may best to celebrate ‘Georgius’ as the honourable man that he was. A man who stood up for everything that he believed in, gave away all of his money for charitable purposes, slayed a metaphorical dragon and got brutally tortured and beheaded because of it (that’s if he ever existed). Long live St. George.
See below for details of some of the St. George’s Day events taking place in the Leeds area.
St. George events will be taking place all weekend in the town of Morley in Leeds. Saturday 21st sees themed stalls and a stage take over the town centre and Sunday 22nd expects a parade starting at the town hall, finishing at the local Rugby and Cricket field, which will provide more stalls and entertainment in memory of St. George.
There’s probably no better place to spend a patriotic day toasting St. George than in a good old fashioned English pub, where you can drink English ale and eat English pub grub. Recommendations include Three Horseshoes in Headingley and The Angel Inn just off Briggate.
Oceana and Co.
No doubt Oceana and the rest of the gang will be hosting a ‘St. George’s Day Special’ at some point this week. You could even dress up in a red and white garment of some sort and really get into the patriotic spirit.