As with the Patron Saints of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the facts about George’s life are shrouded in mystery, and have been blurred by stories. It is generally accepted, however, that George was born in AD 270 in Eastern Turkey to Christian parents. It is unclear what happened to his father, but records show that George and his mother moved to Palestine when he was old enough to become a Roman soldier.
George was a very successful member of the Roman garrison and earned the high rank of Tribunus Militum or Military Tribune (A military tribune was an officer who ranked below the legate and above the centurion).
At some point during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD), George resigned his commission and joined the rebellion against the Emperor’s persecution of the Christians. Captured and tortured, George stayed loyal to his faith, enraging the Emperor, who had him dragged through the streets of Nicomedia, Turkey. Then, on 23rd of April, in 303 AD, Diocletian had George beheaded.
Legend has it that Diocletian’s wife was so impressed by the bravery of George, and his loyalty in the face of certain death, that she adopted his faith. Not long afterwards, she too was executed for her Christianity.
It is uncertain when George was actually named as a Saint by the Christian church. The earliest found recorded reference to St George comes from St Adomnán, the Abbot of Iona in Scotland. In this 7th Century manuscript the Abbot details the story of the Saint’s exploits, which had been passed to him by Arcuif, a French bishop who had travelled to Jerusalem with the crusaders.
During the middle ages, with the rise of the Crusades, the romance of George’s story grew in popularity. Miracle appearances of St George were even reported, including tales that swear he presented himself outside Jerusalem in 1099 and led the Crusaders into battle.
In 1348, King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter (the premier order of chivalry or knighthood in England). He placed The Order under Saint George’s patronage and declared the medal should be awarded on the 23rd April each year by the reigning Monarch.
Such was the popularity of St George in England, that in 1415 Henry V, after winning the battle of Agincourt, finally proclaimed him the Patron Saint of England.
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.