ST GEORGE’S DAY TODAY: THE SIGN OF THE CROSS HONOURS ENGLAND’S PATRON SAINT
St George’s Day 2013 dawned with clear sun and blue sky, but little or no wind, so the red-and-white flags here in the Cotswolds droop on their flagpoles.
But flags aside, what might you be doing to mark England’s patron saint?
Traditional activities include wearing a red rose, Morris dancing, brass bands, mediaeval jousting, falconry displays, even a hog roast. Right now, I’m about to bake a loaf with a cross-shaped double-slash on the top in St George’s honour.
My early morning walk passed St Mary's Church, Chipping Norton (above). Here, the flag of St George hangs from the square tower in the gleaming light of the rising sun.
The popularity of St George's Day has been slowly increasing in recent years, to the point where politicians are getting involved. In 2009, London Mayor Boris Johnson got in on the act, by heading a campaign to boost St George celebrations. It’s not yet a public holiday though, worse luck!
What about St George himself? He is unusual in being a worldwide figure, recognized across many faiths and communities, and the dragon-killing story (Raphael's interpretation is shown below) is also a mythic tale that transcends international borders.
To get vital water, the locals offer the dragon a princess to feast on, but St George goes up against the beast, protecting himself with the sign of the Cross. He fights and kills it, so rescuing the maiden from certain death. In the legend, the locals go on to abandon their pagan ways, and convert to Christianity.
St George’s Day itself dates back to the year 1222, but St George did not become Patron Saint of England until 1348, and it took until the early 15th century for April 23 to become an English national feast day.
* Not forgetting another important occasion today: the death of the immortal bard, William Shakespeare, on April 23, 1616.