St George’s Day has been celebrated on 23rd April every year since he was made the Patron Saint of England in 1415. Even before this time, the figure of St George was very popular, especially with those fighting for Christianity in the Crusades.
During the romantic fervour of chivalry and the Crusades, the legend of St George and the dragon hit the height of its popularity. Over a thousand years old, the tale is set across the other side of the world from the shores of the United Kingdom, in the town of Silene in Libya.
The legend says that a dragon made a huge nest by a fresh water spring at the edge of the town. When the people of Silene came to collect their daily supply of water, they angered the dragon. In an attempt to keep it calm, they offered it sheep so that it wouldn’t eat the people.
When the sheep ran out, the dragon became restless, and the townsfolk were forced to draw lots to decide which maiden should be fed to the dragon. When the lot was drawn, it was revealed that it was Princess Cleolinda, the King’s daughter, who was to be offered to the dragon.
As luck would have it, just as the dragon was circling his latest victim, a brave knight from the Crusades, St George, happened to be passing by. Seeing the princess, George instantly leapt from his horse and drew his sword. Protecting himself with the sign of the cross, George began to fight the dragon. After a fierce battle, George managed to slay the beast and save the princess.
The legend ends with the grateful population of Silene abandoning their pagan beliefs and converting to Christianity, for they believed that the cross George had signalled before battle had saved him.
The legend of St George and the Dragon added an extra mystery and romance to the Crusaders as they returned to England. Consequently, George’s reputation as the soldier’s saint and the protector of England and the English wherever they may be, grew and grew.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.