ST. GEORGE’S DAY
St.George was probably first made well known in England by Arculpus and Adamnan in the early eighth century. The Acts of St George, which recounted his visits to Caerleon and Glastonbury while on service in England, were translated into anglo saxon. Among churches dedicated to St George was one at Doncaster in 1061. George was adopted as the patron saint of soldiers after he was said to have appeared to the Crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Many similar stories were transmitted to the West by Crusaders who had heard them from Byzantine troops, and were circulated further by the troubadours. When Richard 1 was campaigning in Palestine in 1191-92 he put the army under the protection of St George. Because of his widespread following, particularly in the Near East, and the many miracles attributed to him, George became universally recognized as a saint sometime after 900. Originally, veneration as a saint was authorized by local bishops but, after a number of scandals, the Popes began in the twelfth century to take control of the procedure and to systematize it. A lesser holiday in honour of St George, to be kept on 23 April, was declared by the Synod of Oxford in 1222; and St George had become acknowledged as Patron Saint of England by the end of the fourteenth century. In 1415, the year of Agincourt, Archbishop Chichele raised St George’s Day to a great feast and ordered it to be observed like Christmas Day. In 1778 the holiday reverted to a simple day of devotion for English Catholics. The banner of St George, the red cross of a martyr on a white background, was adopted for the uniform of English soldiers possibly in the reign of Richard 1, and later became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy. In a seal of Lyme Regis dating from 1284 a ship is depicted bearing a flag with a cross on a plain background. The fame of St George throughout Europe was greatly increased by the publication of the Legenda Sanctorum by James of Voragine in 1265. It was this book which popularised the legend of George and the Dragon. The legend of St George and the dragon took on a new lease of life during the Counter Reformation. The discoveries in Africa, India and the Americas, in areas which maps had previously shown as populated by dragons, presented vast new fields for Church missionary endeavour, and St George was once again invoked as an example of danger faced and overcome for the good of the Church. Meanwhile, the author, John Bunyan (1628-88), recalled the story of George and the Dragon in the account of the fight between Christian and Apollyon in Pilgrim’s Progress (1679 and 1684).
The legend may have been particularly well received in England because of a similar legend in Anglo-Saxon literature. St George became a stock figure in the secular miracle plays derived from pagan sources which continued to be performed at the beginning of spring. The origin of the legend remains obscure. It is first recorded in the late sixth century and may have been an allegory of the persecution of Diocletian, who was sometimes referred to as ‘the dragon’ in ancient texts. The story appears be a christianised version of the Greek legend of Perseus, who was said to have rescued the virgin Andromeda from a sea monster at Arsuf or Jaffa, near Lydda ,where the cult of St George grew up around the site of his supposed tomb. In 1348, George was adopted by Edward III as principal Patron of his new order of chivalry, the Knights of the Garter. Some believe that the Order took its name from a pendant badge or jewel traditionally shown in depictions of Saint George. The insignia of the Order include a Collar and Badge Appendant, known as the George. The badge is of gold and presents a richly enamelled representation of St George on horseback slaying the dragon. A second medal, the Lesser George, also depicting George and the dragon, is worn attached to the Sash. The objective of the Order was probably to focus the efforts of England on further Crusades to reconquer the Holy Land. The earliest records of the Order of the Garter were destroyed by fire, but it is believed that either in 1348 or in 1344 Edward proclaimed St George Patron Saint of England. Although the cult of St George was suppressed in England at the Reformation, St George’s Chapel, Windsor, completed in stages from 1483 to 1528, has remained the official seat of the Order, where its chapters assemble. The Monarch and the Prince of Wales are always members, together with 24 others and 26 Knights or Ladies Companion.
In 1940,when the civilian population of Britain was subjected to mass bombing by the Luftwaffe,King George V1 instituted the George Cross for ‘acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger’. The award, which is second only to the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration, is usually given to civilians and can be given posthumously.The award consists of a silver cross. On one side is depicted St George slaying the dragon, with the inscription,’For Gallantry’;on the other appear the name of the holder and the date of the award. For lesser, but still outstanding acts of courage, the King created the George Medal. This also is a silver cross, with on one side the reigning monarch and on the other St George slaying the dragon.The Island of Malta was awarded the George Cross for its heroism in resisting attack during World War 11.
St George continues to be venerated in the Church of England, by the Orthodox churches and by the Churches of the Near East and Ethiopia.He finds a place in Islamic Hagiography, that gives him the honoured title of "Prophet". The supposed tomb of St George can still be seen at Lod, south-east of Tel-Aviv; and a convent in Cairo preserves personal objects which are believed to have belonged to George. St George is still venerated in a large number of places, by followers of particular occupations and sufferers from certain diseases. George is the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece; and of Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (second to St Mark). He is patron of soldiers, cavalry and chivalry; of farmers and field workers, Boy Scouts and butchers; of horses, riders and saddlers; and of sufferers from leprosy, plague and syphilis.
All down the centuries, one peculiarity of the English people, which has cost them dear. We have always thrown away after a victory the greater part of the advantages we had gained in the struggle. The worst difficulties from which we suffer do not come from without. They come from within. They do not come from the cottages of the wage earners; they come from a peculiar type of brainy people, always found in our country, who, if they add something to its culture, take much from its strength. Our difficulties come from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement, into which we have been cast, by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians. But what have they to offer, but a vague internationalism, a squalid materialism, and the promise of impossible utopias? Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told.
So shalt thou when morning comes
Rise to conquer or to fall,
Joyful hear the rolling drums,
Joyful hear the trumpets call,
Then let Memory tell thy heart:
“England! what thou wert, thou art!”
Gird thee with thine ancient might.