A History of St George’s Day

By Tim Lambert

St George is, of course, the patron saint of England. ‘Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’ Those immortal words are from Shakespeare’s Henry V but who was St George and how did he become the patron saint of England? St George was a Roman soldier who lived in the 3rd century AD. At the end of the century, Emperor Diocletian persecuted Christians and St George was martyred in 303 AD.

The cult of St George was brought to England from the Middle East by the Crusaders. (St George was popular with the Crusaders because he was a soldier). He is supposed to have appeared to them at Antioch in 1098. St Georges Day, 23 April was set by the Synod of Oxford in 1222.

Meanwhile, he was growing in popularity in England. By the 14th century, St George was seen as England’s saint.

Guilds of St George

In the Middle Ages, some people formed religious guilds. They prayed for dead members’ souls and provided charity. Many were dedicated to St George. On St George’s Day in many places, effigies of St George were taken out of the local church and paraded around the parish. Furthermore in the Middle Ages, the legend of St George and the dragon grew up. Many places also paraded a model dragon.

However, after the Reformation, the cult of the saints was swept away in England and St George lost much of his importance. Unlike many national saints, St George has been neglected. However, recently St Georges’s Day has been revived.

St George is also the patron saint of Catalonia.

A stained glass window of St George in Blendworth, Hampshire

Last revised 2024