St. George - the man, the legend, the day...
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April 23rd is when we, the English celebrate our national day and our patron Saint. It is when we celebrate our history, our culture and the values and principles that we as a country stand for. Despite the fact that over the last 300 years England's very identity has been pushed to one side for the sake of Britishness and in spite of the best efforts of many of the political classes, the English are once again beginning to find their voice. With the devolution of the other home countries England and the English, after three centuries, are once again beginning to rediscover their own identity.
Since 1996 when England football fans started waving the Cross of St George instead of the Union Jack, our flag has made a startling come back and is now to be seen everywhere you look whether on the backs of cars or worn proudly on T-shirts or baseball caps. Figures from 1999 showed that sales of St George Cross flags had soared five fold in five years for one manufacturer, Clinton Cards had sold 60,000 St George greetings cards, up from 4000 when they were first introduced in 1994 and the Royal Society of St George had quadrupled its membership within the year. At the time of writing 70,000 people have signed the Bombardier on-line petition to have St George's Day marked with a national holiday.
So next St George's Day join thousands of your fellow countrymen and make a point of celebrating our day. Wear a rose, send a card, let your nearest and dearest know that you're thinking of them. Have a drink or a meal, give presents or have a full blown party. Display our flag with pride because no matter what anyone else says we have more to be proud of than other nation. No other people on the planet have left their mark as we have. Our language, our sports, our culture, our inventions and discoveries have been carried worldwide and in one way or the other touch every living person on the planet.
Twice this century alone our people have fought and died on foreign fields; not because our country was directly threatened, but in defence of freedom and liberty. By celebrating our day, by flying our flag or even by simply wearing a pin badge, we are stating in our own way that no matter what they may say, there are still millions of people out there who care so much for this great country of ours. We are alive and well and will not be quiet. The lion roars again.
St George - The Man
Hard facts are hard to come by, but what is know is that St George was a Roman soldier who was tortured to death in the Holy Land around 300AD for refusing to renounce his faith. Apart from this much of the rest of his life remains shrouded in mystery and even his nationality is uncertain although he was probably Turkish or possibly Palestinian. He certainly wasn't English but then again St Patrick isn't Irish and St Andrew isn't a Scot.
The English are not the only people to stake a claim to him. In the Middle East, Christians invoke his powers to exorcise demons. In many countries St George is associated with fertility and his day marks the beginning of summer. In Lithuania he is revered as the guardian of animals and in parts of Spain his day is celebrated with feasts and gift giving.
From the middle ages his cross had become the flag of London, Durham, Lincoln, Rochester and York as well as England itself. Tales of St George were brought back with the early crusaders and with his story, even at that time being so vague he could be made to fit more comfortably with the violence of England's warlike kings than many of his more pacifist counterparts.
The later crusades really cemented George's status and in 1191, Richard the Lionheart was reputed to have discovered his tomb at Lod in present day Israel. During the 11th century siege of Antioch he is said to have appeared to the crusaders, as a knight dressed in white robes decorated with a red cross urging the men forward and again 800 years later British troops reported sightings of him on the western front.
Fact or fiction, with the tale of his slaying of the dragon, St George represents the victory of good over evil and touches something very deep and potent in the English psyche.
The legend of St George is probably best summed up by William Cook who finishes a book review of St George by saying: "You are left with a strong suspicion that, even though most of this tale is surely legend, something incredible really did happen in Palestine 1,700 years ago - well worth a round of drinks on 23 April".