Today is St. George’s Day, which is great because it’s the day we can all celebrate how proud we are to be English. Come and celebrate with us at Faiths Forum for London today; we’re bringing some key people in our community together to eat food and share stories about strengthening communities.
But who was St. George? According to Roman legend he was a soldier of Greek origin. There isn’t too much information about his early life, although there are historical accounts suggesting that he was born in Cappadocia – now part of Turkey.
His mother was from Palestine and he was brought up as a devout Christian. According to some accounts, at the age of 17 he decided to walk in his father’s footsteps and join the Roman Army. He rapidly rose the ranks and soon became part of Emperor Diocletian’s inner circle.
In 303 AD, St. George found himself on the receiving end of religious discrimination. Amid a crackdown on the growing Christian influence in the army, he (like all the other soldiers of that particular faith) was expelled.
Despite being the victim of discrimination and being offered increased wealth and prosperity to renounce his beliefs, he stayed true to his faith. Unhappy with this development, Diocletian ordered St. George to be executed.
He was, according to some historians, ruthlessly tortured before he was allowed to die. This included the terrifying ‘laceration on a wheel of swords’ during which he was resuscitated several times. Despite all of this, he continued to refuse to denounce his faith. He stayed true to himself until the bitter end.
His corpse was eventually returned to his hometown, Lydda, where he was laid to rest. People of all faiths, who consider him a martyr, visit his grave to honour him. St. George isn’t, of course, just the patron saint of England. He’s also the patron saint of Portugal, Lebanon, Malta, Ethiopia, Georgia, the Palestinian territories, Serbia and Lithuania.
According to historian Ian Mortimer, a patron saint does not specifically have to be from the country that has made them their saint – they just need to embody the characteristics the kingdom want to project to the outside world. If that’s the case, St. George is a great choice for a patron saint of England; a country that places a great emphasis on multiculturalism, integration and community cohesion.
Happy St. George’s Day!