St George’s Day 2024: When is it and who was England’s patron saint?

A day commemorating (supposed) dragon slaying and tales of knighthood - it’s only St George’s Day.

The national day is acknowledged by many Christian churches and dedicated to the patron saint of England, St George.

This springtime celebration, also known as The Feast of George, is the perfect opportunity to fly your English flag - literally and figuratively.

It is not quite a holiday from work but you can still celebrate the anniversary of St George’s historic triumph this April.

Here’s everything you need to know about St George’s Day:

St George’s Day is celebrated annually on April 23. (Getty Images)
St George’s Day is celebrated annually on April 23. (Getty Images)

When is St George’s Day?

St George’s Day is typically celebrated on April 23 - the day of the patron saint’s death in 303 AD. Unfortunately, the UK does not hold a bank holiday on St George’s Day.

What is St George’s Day?

St George’s Day is a Christian feast day commemorating Saint George of Lydda, who was executed by the Romans on April 23 more than 1,000 years ago.

According to legend, St George was born in Cappadocia, in what is now modern day Turkey. Once a soldier in the Roman army, he rose up the ranks to become a member of the Praetorian Guard for the Emperor Diocletian.

However, the tale goes that St George was tortured and later executed by the Romans for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. He became a martyr for early Christians, who later venerated him as a saint.

Why do we celebrate St George’s Day in England?

St George is England’s patron saint, shared with other places such as Ethiopia, Catalonia, Aragon, Bulgaria, Russia and Portugal.

He was widely celebrated as a warrior saint, but in 134 his position was elevated to patron saint after his recounted intervention at the Battle of Crécy.

 (PA)
(PA)

In 1552 all religious banners were abolished, except for those of St George.

The myth of Saint George was further popularised in the 13th century when it was published in a manuscript called The Golden Legend, that traced the lives of various saints.

According to the hagiography (saint story), George heroically slayed a dragon and rescued a princess from being eaten. In their gratitude, the people of the town converted to Christianity.

The anniversary of his execution, on April 23, is now celebrated as England’s national day.

What are some St George’s Day traditions?

Unfortunately, St George’s Day is no longer a public holiday in England, unlike our Scottish (St Andrew’s Day) and Irish (St Patrick’s Day) cousins.

While it used to be observed much like Christmas, celebrations started to wane in the early 18th century. However, there are calls for it to be observed as a national holiday.

Celebration often includes a feast hosted by the Church of England. You can hold your own with traditional English foods such as Yorkshire puddings, cottage pie, mushroom and stilton tarts, kedgeree, shepherd’s pie, and fish cakes.

Or don a red rose - if you believe the tale where St George gifted the princess a flower upon saving her.

How is London celebrating St George’s Day 2024?

A St George’s Day event will be hosted in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, April 21. From 12pm until 6pm, a number of performers will take to the stage, including Harleymoon Kemp, Folk Dance Remixed, The Snottledogs, West End Kids, Twist and Pulse and She's Got Brass. Guests will also be invited to learn how to Morris dance, compose a sea shanty, dress up in medieval costumes, and enjoy a carousel ride. There will also be beer, Pimms, gin, and food on offer.

St George’s Day facts

1. There is some doubt that St George even existed

Very little is actually known about the life and deeds of St George.

If he ever existed (there’s no proof he did), George would likely have been born in the 3rd century AD more than 2,000 miles away in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey).

The Roman church itself had its doubts about the veracity of St George’s existence.

In the sixth century it declared that George was “one of the saints who were rightly reverenced by men, but whose deeds were known only to God”.

2. St George never visited England

St George might be hailed as England’s national hero, but he wasn’t actually English and never even visited the country.

Born in modern day Turkey, his reputation for virtue and holiness spread across Europe and his feast day was celebrated in England from the 9th century onwards.

He became popular with English kings. Edward I (1272-1307) had banners bearing the emblem of St George (a red cross on a white background) and Edward III (1327-77) had a strong interest in the saint and owned a relic of his blood.

3. England isn’t the only country to celebrate St George

England is far from the only country or region to claim St George as its patron.

England shares St George with Venice, Genoa, Portugal, Ethiopia and Catalonia among others as their patron saint and many of these places have their own celebrations in his honour.

4. The dragon was not always part of the St George legend

The well known myth that St George rode into Silene (modern day Libya) to free the city from a dragon, is actually story which post-dates the ‘real’ George by several centuries.

It may have started simply as a way to explain icons of military saints slaying dragons, symbolising the triumph of good over evil.

5. King Edward I is the reason why St George ‘became’ English

As a crusader, King Edward I took a liking to St George, and kitted his troops in the St George’s cross when fighting the Welsh.

He raised St George’s flag over Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland in 1300, among other things.

In 1348, King Edward III gave St George a special position as a patron saint of the Order of the Garter in thanks for his supposed intervention at the Battle of Crécy.