3 years, 10 months ago
St. George’s Day is traditionally celebrated on April 23rd and the festivities are more widespread than you might think. Malta, Majorca, Moscow, Genoa, Croatia, Valencia and Cyprus are just a few of the places that commemorate George every year. But he’s probably best known as the Patron Saint of England, regardless of attempts to replace him with Edmund the Martyr or Cuthbert of Lindisfarne – Edmund’s Wikipedia entry begins ‘Almost nothing is known about Edmund’ and Cuthbert was a pious hermit. Saint George, on the other hand, is famous for slaying a dragon and coming back to life three times – once after being dismembered and buried. It’s not a competition, but if it was …… But if you want to make up your own mind this weekend, here’s where you can find Saint George at his best.
Nottingham traditionally marks April 23rd by draping its town hall in an enormous red and white Saint George’s flag. All the incentive necessary for the entire city to pull out the pageantry and celebrate everything from Robin Hood to King Arthur, the sainted dragon slayer himself and as much Merry Olde England as it can fit into a day. This is the place for jousting and medieval markets, folk music and folk lore, 15th century street food, dress up and, of course, Morris Dancing. It’s the biggest and liveliest Saint George’s Day event in the UK and works patriotism from the fun angle very nicely.
‘God for England, Harry and Saint George’ is the battle cry from Shakespeare’s Henry V credited with fixing England’s patron saint forever in the popular imagination. As coincidence would have it, April 23rd is also the exact date of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616. Shakespeare 400 has events all over the UK all year to mark the occasion but the weekend of Saint George’s Day is when bard-fanatics should head for London. From the V&A to the Royal Festival Hall there are performances, talks, walks, exhibitions, plays and concerts before during and after April 23rd. If you want to mix up your George and William, Trafalgar Square has both from noon until 6pm on Saint George’s Day with kid’s events, live music and a traditional food and craft market.
Shakespeare’s birthplace wasn’t going to miss out on April 23rd this year (or any year). Undaunted by there being no way to authenticate what William Shakespeare really looked like, the legendary town is set on having a ‘Mass Masked Moment’ – thousands wearing the face of the bard on-masse in honour of his 400-year old legacy. There’s also an immense ‘cradle to grave’ Shakespeare parade through the town on April 23rd and no shortage of theatre – this is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, after all.
1. He wasn’t English and most likely never set foot on British soil
The patron saint of England was a 4th century Roman soldier born in Cappadocia and martyred in Palestine, on the orders of Emperor Diocletian, for refusing to torture Christian prisoners.
2. The dragon story probably isn’t true
The fantastic tale originated in Libya (far enough away from medieval England to make dragons feasible), was embroidered by 13th century Crusaders and finally came to the attention of King Edward III, who was so impressed he made George the Order of the Garter patron saint in the 14th century.
3. Essex lays claim to the original Saint George
The village of Wormingford in Essex claims a ‘real’ George the Dragon Slayer, Sir George Marney. According to legend this 12th century nobleman killed a crocodile which had escaped from Richard I’s menagerie in the Tower of London and taken up residence in a local river. Wormingford Parish Church has a pretty stained glass window commemorating the heroic deed, so it must be true.
4. Saint George’s Day used to be as big as Christmas
From the 15th century right through until the 18th century, Saint George’s Day was a public holiday, feast day and as big a deal as Christmas. Fervent supporters of the event still regularly attempt to have it reinstated as an English national holiday.
5. Saint George is also the Saint of Lepers (among other things)
He also protects lepers, knights and horsemen, is the patron saint of Beirut and the patron saint of the Boy Scouts of America.
If you aren’t taken by public shows of patriotism, flag waving and Morris Dancing, you could always simply hum a few bars of Jerusalem under your breath on April 23rd or, even better, head to the British Museum to see ‘Black George’. The only depiction of Saint George on a black horse, this 15th century icon is just one of millions of works of art you can see for free in the UK – a truly great British tradition to celebrate on Saint George’s Day.