"George must be classed with that category of saints whose names are ‘justly reverenced among men, but for whose acts on earth are known only to God’": Pope Gelasius
If you ask any English person if they know who Saint George is, they will probably be taken aback to be faced with such an elementary question and hasten to add that of course they do! After all, Saint George’s name is practically a household word: he is patron saint of England and one of the most popular saints: not only does his red cross appear on our flag, but countless streets and squares, public buildings and houses have been named after him. Generally, too, people know he slayed a dragon! However, any more information than that is lacking..
As far as historians are aware, Saint George (c. 275/281 – 23 April 303 AD) was born in Lydda (in modern Israel), and was a soldier in the Roman army and was later venerated as a Christian martyr. Saint George became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian. However, this is all we know (if that’s true!), and he could be an amalgamation of many people called George, or similar to the real George.
In hagiography, Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic (Western and Eastern Rites), Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches. He is immortalized in the tale of Saint George and the Dragon and is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. His memorial is celebrated on 23 April, and he is regarded as one of the most prominent military saints.
Why is he England’s Patron Saint?
The earliest documented mention of Saint George in England comes from the venerable Bede (c. 673–735). He is also mentioned in ninth-century liturgy used at Durham Cathedral. Early (c. 10th century) dedications of churches to Saint George are noted in England, for example at Fordingham, Dorset, at Thetford, Southwark, and Doncaster. In 1222 the Synod of Oxford declared Saint George's Day a feast day in the kingdom of England. Edward III (1327–1377) put his Order of the Garter (founded c. 1348) under the banner of Saint George. This order is still the foremost order of knighthood in England, and Saint George's Chapel at Windsor Castle was built by Edward IV and Henry VII in honour of the order.
In his play Henry V, William Shakespeare famously invokes the Saint at Harfleur prior to the battle of Agincourt (1415): "Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'" Here's a side fact: the real king Henry V had two Carmelite friars at different times as his confessor: Stephen Patrington and Thomas Netter.
Now back to George..
Saint George's Day was a major feast and national holiday in England on a par with Christmas from the early 15th century. The Cross of Saint George was flown in 1497 by John Cabot on his voyage to discover Newfoundland and later by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1620 it was the flag that was flown by the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Saint George is definitely a fascinating subject! He is the patron saint of so many countries and things that everyone has grown so accustomed to his reassuring presence.
In the Catholic tradition (and others) of Christianity, saints - God's holy men and women both on earth and in heaven - are regarded as models of how to follow Jesus Christ, and as "intercessors". Because the saints in heaven live fully in the presence of God, yet are still bound to those living on earth by bonds of love, they present our needs to God. The saints are not a substitute for developing a personal relationship with God, but they can be regarded as our friends, asking God for what we truly need, even if we do not know what that need may be ourselves.
In conclusion, George is very much a reassuring presence for so many people, and we should utilise this reassuring presence and know that he is looking out for us – like all the saints. George is justly reverenced among men, but for whose acts on earth are known only to God.
Let us pray..
Faithful servant of God and martyr, Saint George, favoured by God with the gift of faith, and inflamed with an ardent love of Christ, you did fight valiantly against the dragon of pride, falsehood, and deceit. Neither pain nor torture, sword nor death could part you from the love of Christ.
I fervently implore you for the sake of this love to help me by your intercession to overcome the temptations that surround me, and to bear bravely the trials that oppress me, so that I may patiently carry the cross which is placed upon me; and let neither distress nor difficulties separate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
SAINT GEORGE, PRAY FOR US; SAINT JUDE, PRAY FOR US
(Written by Matthew Betts)