St George's Day: Who was England's patron saint?

Last updated at 07:33
St GeorgeGetty Images
St George is the patron saint of England (and other countries, in fact!)

On 23 April, many people across England will be celebrating the country's patron saint for St George's Day.

Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over all areas of life.

England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all have their own patron saints.

England flagDaniel Berehulak
The cross of St George features on the flag of England

St George isn't only the patron saint for England. He also holds this position for Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany, Greece, Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (second to Saint Mark).

The flag of Saint George - a red cross on a white background - is the flag for England and is incorporated into the Union Jack (the UK's flag).

So who was he anyway?

What do we (think we) know?

Very little is actually known about George himself (!) and there's a lot of stories about him that are full of myth and legend.

It is believed he was born in a place called called Cappadocia - an area which is now in Turkey - and he lived during the 3rd Century.

His parents were Christian and, after his father died, his mother took George to live in an area called Palestine in the Middle East, where she was originally from.

George became a Roman soldier and protested against how Rome treated Christian people badly.

Emperor DiocletianHulton Archive
The emperor at the time, Diocletian (in this illustration), did not treat Christians well

He was put in prison and tortured because of this, but he refused to turn away from his religious faith. He was eventually executed.

It is said that the Roman Emperor's wife was so impressed by how much George stuck to his religion that she became a Christian too.

It is believed that she met the same fate as George.

So what's the dragon all about?

One story that many people recall when they think about St George is that of him slaying a dragon.

This story became popular when it was printed in 1483 in a book called The Golden Legend.

Legend has it that George came to a city called Silene, in a country called Libya, where there was a dragon.

The people of the city were feeding sheep to the dragon everyday to stop it from attacking them - but they ran out of sheep!

An illustration of George fighting the dragonHulton Archive
This illustration shows George fighting the dragon

So they had to nominate people from the town to be sacrificed to the animal. When the King's daughter was selected, he tried to get her out of it - but the people of the town refused, saying that they had to sacrifice their loved ones, so why shouldn't he?

George came across the princess waiting to be sacrificed to the dragon, and she told him what was happening in the town.

The dragon turned up and George is said to have fought with the dragon and brought it down, before putting a collar round its neck.

The princess led the defeated dragon into the city, which terrified people! But George told them not to worry and put their faith in God.

The town converted to Christianity and eventually the dragon was killed.

Why St George?

One thing that we do know about St George is that he wasn't actually English. It is even believed that he may never have stepped foot in the country!

Some people have actually campaigned for St Edmund to be the patron of England, as they believe he is more English and more suitable for the title, but the country's patron saint has not been changed.

Back in the 14th Century, King Edward III (1327-77) was so inspired by tales of King Arthur and his knights that he founded something called the Order of the Garter around 1348. The Order of the Garter was a special group of knights (and it still exists today!).

He made St George the patron of it and its badge depicts George slaying the dragon, so St George remains an important symbol of knighthood in this country.

Queen attending a service for the Order of the GarterGetty Images
Here, the Queen is attending a service for the Order of the Garter at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. You can see the St George's cross on what she is wearing

St George's Chapel was built at Windsor Castle by Edward IV and Henry VII, and made the official chapel for the Order of the Garter.

English soldiers also used to wear the cross of St George on their fronts and backs.

From the 14th Century, Saint George came to be regarded as a special protector of the English.