Celebrating St George’s Day
The Feast of St George is traditionally celebrated on the 23rd April, the date he died in AD 303. St George’s Day is celebrated by various Christian Churches and by several nations, kingdoms, countries, and cities of which Saint George is the patron saint including England, Catalonia and Aragon.
Who was St George?
We know very little about St George’s life. It is thought that he was a Roman soldier who was tortured and then martyred by Emperor Diocletian when he refused to renounce his Christian faith.
He became one of the most venerated saints in Christianity, particularly as a military saint during the Crusades. He is also one of the ‘Fourteen Holy Helpers’; a group of saints who are venerated together in Roman Catholicism, as it is thought that praying to them is very effective against various diseases. St George was thought specifically to protect animals against the plague.
He is most famous for the legend of St George and the Dragon, which you can read more about below.
Why is He Important in England?
The earliest mention of St George in England was by the Catholic monk, the Venerable Bede, who lived from 673-735 AD. The will of Alfred the Great (King of the Anglo-Saxons from 886-899 AD) is said to refer to the saint, in a reference to the church of Fordington, Dorset, where a stone over the south door records the miraculous appearance of St. George to lead crusaders into battle.
Edward III (1327–1377) created the Order of the Garter in 1348, under the banner of St. George. This order is still the most important order of knighthood in England. The badge of the Order shows Saint George on horseback slaying the dragon. King Edward III made him the Patron Saint of England when he formed the Order of the Garter in 1350, and the cult of the Saint was further advanced by King Henry V, at the battle of Agincourt in northern France. The English were observed invoking St. George as a battle cry on several occasions during the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), and some English soldiers also displayed the flag of St George.
Shakespeare made sure that nobody would forget St. George, and had King Henry V finishing his pre-battle speech with the famous phrase, ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!’ Coincidentally, 23rd April is also ‘Shakespeare Day’, as the bard was born and died around this date.
St George and the Dragon
The legend of Saint George and the Dragon describes the saint taming and slaying a dragon that demanded human sacrifices; the saint thereby rescues the princess chosen as the next offering.
The story has pre-Christian origins and is recorded in various saints’ lives prior to its attribution to St George specifically. The earliest record of Saint George slaying a dragon is from the 11th century.
The story reached Western Christian tradition in the 12th century, during the crusades. The Knights of the First Crusade believed that St George with his fellow soldier-saints Demetrius, Maurice and Theodore fought alongside them in battle at Antioch and Jerusalem.
At first, limited to the courtly setting of Chivalric romance, the legend was popularised in the 13th century and became a favourite artistic subject in the Late Middle Ages. It has become an integral part of the Christian traditions relating to Saint George.
How is St George’s Day Celebrated?
Whilst the celebration of St George’s day had waned by the end of the 18th century, in recent years its popularity has been increasing gradually.
Today, St. George’s day may be celebrated with anything English including morris dancing and Punch and Judy shows.
A traditional custom on St George’s day is fly or adorn the St George’s Cross flag in some way: pubs, in particular, can be seen on 23 April festooned with garlands of St George’s crosses. It is customary for the hymn “Jerusalem” to be sung in cathedrals, churches and chapels on St George’s Day, or on the Sunday closest to it. Traditional English food and drink may also be consumed.
There have been calls to replace St. George as the patron saint of England on the grounds that he was an obscure figure who had no direct connection with the country. However, there is no obvious consensus as to whom to replace him with, though names suggested include Edmund the Martyr, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, or Saint Alban.
St George’s Day Activities
St George’s Dragon
These great paper plate dragons are really easy and inexpensive to make. Ask your pupils to paint two paper plates each in contrasting colours. Cut one in half to create the dragon’s body and then draw the head, tails and wings onto the other one. Carefully cut these out. With the flat edge of the body at the bottom, use PVA glue to attach the head on the left corner and the tail on the right. For the wings, attach one to the front of the plate on the top curved edge, and the other behind next to it (see image below to see how this should look). Stick on some googly eyes and give your dragon a smiley or fierce mouth. Finally, paint a lolly-pop stick green (or the same colour as the body), and attach this to the bottom of your dragon on the reverse of the plate.
St George Illustrations
During the medieval and renaissance periods, paintings of St George killing the dragon were very popular (see pictures above). Why not ask your pupils to create their own pictures? They could do this on one half of a sheet of A3 paper, using paint, coloured pencils or felt tips and then write their own short version of the legend on the other.
St George’s Day Stickers
Did you know that PTS has brilliant Personalised St Georges Day Stickers for you and your pupils? Take a look at these great classroom rewards which allow you to add your own wording for a truly personal touch.
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