Every year there is a campaign from someone somewhere about Saint George's Day. Often it is about making the national day for England a Bank Holiday, or to extend the drinking hours, or, in some cases, to be allowed to fly the English flag as some exuberant councils think it is racist. Yes, really. Bizarre.
Fairly regularly too, is the campaign to remove Saint George from his position of England's saint. The argument centres around the fact that he is not English and therefore should not be our patron saint. Some sources claim that George was born in Cappadocia in modern day Turkey. According to the latest research (April 2019) DNA evidence suggests that the ancient monument Stonehenge was built by peoples from Turkey. So a patron saint from Turkey may not be as obscure as we think.
George followed his father's career choice by fighting for the Emperor Diocletian. Unfortunately, the army was ordered to kill Christians and offer sacrifice to the Roman gods; something George, naturally, refused to do. He was subsequently tortured and executed in Palestine in 303 on 23 April.
George was canonised in 494 AD by Pope Gelasius who claimed he was one of those 'whose names are justly revered among men but whose acts are known only to God'.
They are the facts as best we know them. But it is the story of him slaying the dragon that George is most famous. This tale appeared in a book called The Golden Legend, which was a Medieval bestseller and made George into the superhero. He rescued a damsel in distress who may have been offered to the dragon so that it would move away from its nest. This would enable the villagers to collect water that the dragon blocked.
Often the story was depicted literally, but it came to symbolise the paganism of Roman gods and their worship and how George died for Christianity by killing the satanic dragon. As he was one of the first Christian martyrs it made sense to have him as patron saint of the newly Christian England.
Or did it?
George is also patron saint of Germany, Greece, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Istanbul, Portugal, Genoa, Venice and Moscow. So we don't have an exclusive saint. He replaced Saint Edmund, who was English, and many want him back again. Edward the Confessor is also a contender.
So why do we keep George over Edmund or Edward?
George was not only a martyr. He embodied the qualities of a Medieval hero in a way Edmund did not. He was brave - he was a soldier (he became patron saint of archers, cavalry and chivalry) and stood up against the power of a Roman Emperor. That is impressive enough. He gave his wealth to the poor before he was executed and saved the life of a young woman (sometimes portrayed as the Emperor's wife). He helps those suffering from syphilis, leprosy and plague; diseases that traditionally made outcasts of its victims. George was to become a protective giant and caught the imagination of the Medieval peoples.
But the overriding feature George had was the very thing that modern day folk complain about. Unlike the patron saint of Wales, David, George was not born in the country that made him their saint. He was not English. This meant that none of the regions or kingdoms could claim him as their own. No one army could fly his flag independently. There were no local shrines nor special communities.
George served to bring the English people together as no other had before.