Well the date for one! A recent poll resulted in the surprising conclusion that the majority of English people are unable to correctly name the feast day of our patron saint. (23rd April). Having just danced out with my morris side to celebrate the old warrior’s exploits here are a few interesting facts about our unsung hero which might redress the balance.
1. Contrary to what you might expect, St. George was no English warlord galloping out of the dark ages to rescue the oppressed! He was actually a Roman soldier born of a Turkish father and Palestinian mother who was martyred for his stance against his superiors over the torture of Christians.
2. St. George’s emblem is a red cross on a white background and is now our national flag. It was first brought to England by Richard the Lion Heart, (another furriner who spent very little time here!). Richard ordered his soldiers to wear it during the crusades to mark them out during battle which must have pleased Saladin immensely and just goes to prove that we are not only ignorant about our national saint, but extremely good at shooting ourselves in the foot!
3. Just to clarify, we have a Turk for a national saint and our royal family descends from the French. Given that it is very doubtful if St. George ever set foot on English soil this might account for our inbred suspicion of foreigners and lack of historical interest in our multi-racial heritage.
On the other hand it could be the result of the current comprehensive educational system which insists our children learn about the socio-political causes of the second world war at the expense of their historical roots.
4. If few people know that St George is England’s patron saint, even less know that he also heads up the Scouting movement. Expect to see on the Sunday nearest to the 23rd April thousands of kaki clad, woggle wearing mini-troopers marching through the streets of our towns and villages to their nearest church for a special service.
5. He is also the patron saint of archers, which Shakespeare makes good use of in these rabble rousing lines from Henry V, Act 3…
“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry God for Harry, England and St George!”
6. Talking of Shakespeare, he was obviously destined for greatness as he was born on 23 April 1564 and he died on the same day in 1616. (St. George’s Day for those not paying attention).
7. What about this ‘ere dragon? Well if you are over the age of eight and still believe in dragons I respectfully suggest you get some help. Dragons didn’t exist during the middle ages which is when this story originated. Plenty of devils though and the term was used extensively as a substitute for “he who must not be named” by the pious God-fearers of Tudor England.
8. If we’ve largely forgotten our red-crossed Knight, our medieval ancestors were not so remiss. Many mumming plays feature a St. George/King George character often opening with the lines…
I am King George that valiant knight
Who lost his blood for England’s right…
9. How do we celebrate St. George’s Day? Until very recently, not at all! In the past, for most of us the day went by without comment and if by the remotest chance we came across anyone sporting a red rose in their button hole, we’d assume they were off to a wedding!
However, the times they are a changing! The English are not symbolised by the bull dog for nothing! Strength and tenacity were ever our watch words! The past few years has seen us rouse from inertia, shake our jowls at the cynics and disbelievers and through the spittle of indignation, dust off the old dragon slayer for an annual spring airing!
Don’t expect July 4th fireworks or a St. Patrick’s day booze up, but each year more and more organisations are running St. George’s day celebrations and events. From extravagant local authority displays designed to lure shoppers into the malls to home spun affairs on village greens the old warrior rides again!
In various shapes and sizes you’ll find him wielding sword and lance, afire with virtue and righteousness and slaying the evil dragons of anger, greed and hate with all the understated courage of a true, stiff upper lipped Englishman… except he isn’t!