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St George's Day celebration in Wellingborough

Published Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Wellingborough Council will celebrate St George’s Day with the raising of the national flag on Wednesday 23 April at 10am outside the council offices at Swanspool House. Everyone is welcome to attend the short ceremony.

St George is the patron saint of England, and is popularly identified with English ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry, but he wasn't English at all.

He was born to Christian parents around 270 AD in Cappadocia, an area which is now in Turkey. He was a soldier who rose through the ranks of the Roman army, and later protested against the pagan leader, the Emperor Diocletian, who led Rome's persecutions of Christians.

George tore up the Emperor's order against Christians, which infuriated Diocletian. George was imprisoned and tortured, but refused to deny his faith. Eventually he was dragged through the streets of Lydda in Palestine and beheaded on 23 April in the year 303 AD. It's said that Diocletian's wife was so impressed by George's bravery and loyalty to his religion that she became a Christian and that she too was executed for her faith.

The earliest known British reference to St George occurs in an account by St Adamnan, the 7th century Abbot of Iona. The popularity of St George in England grew during the crusades of the 1100s and 1200s, with returning crusaders telling of a miracle vision that led them into a victorious battle.

In 1222, the Council of Oxford declared April 23 to be St George's Day and he became regarded as a special protector of the English. In 1415 St George's Day became a national feast day, after Henry V's speech at the Battle of Agincourt invoked St George as the patron saint of England. The national day was celebrated as widely as Christmas, but had waned in popularity by the end of the 18th century after the union with Scotland.

Today, it is reported that only one in five people know that St George's Day is 23 April.

The famous legend of St George and the dragon is over a thousand years old, and was first credited to him in the 12th century, long after his death.

The tale goes that a dragon terrorised the town of Silene in Libya and when people came to collect water they would disturb the dragon. They offered sheep as a sacrifice, but when they had no more sheep to offer they had to provide human sacrifices. They drew lots and eventually the king's daughter was selected.

The story then tells how George was passing through on a white stallion and heard about the sacrifice of the princess. He dismounted, protected himself with the sign of the cross, and fought and slayed the dragon on foot thereby rescuing the princess. In gratitude, the people of the town converted to Christianity.

This image of St George, dressed in a white tunic with a red cross, astride a stallion and slaying dragon as he saves a fair maiden, is the most familiar to us today. The George Cross was inaugurated by King George VI in 1940 for 'acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger'. It is usually awarded to civilians and St George slaying the dragon is depicted on the silver cross.

St George is patron saint not only of England, but also Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, and Greece among others. He's also patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry, farmers and field workers. In recent years he has been adopted as the patron saint of the scouts.