St. George's Day: April 23

April 23rd is St. George’s Day; it’s the nearest England gets to a national celebration. Unbelievably, this national day is a cause for contention instead of a big party. The St. George’s cross has been the national emblem of England for so long, it should be part of everyone’s heritage. Instead, we have the unspeakable Union flag (what everybody used to call Union Jack, but seemingly some brain and nameless git decided this is not politically correct). 

You would think that a patron saint to a country would be quite substantial and have a direct connection to the country he is supposed to protect. In the case of St. George, neither is correct. Like most early church saints, he is more myth than fact and mostly an invention for propaganda purposes. Somewhere along the way, he also picked up a dragon, and that’s how we know him today. 

Legend has him born in central Turkey towards the end of the 3rd century A.D. As the Ten Commandments state that you shouldn't kill, as a good Christian he joined the army of pagan Emperor Diocletian. Proving an efficient killing machine, he rose to become an officer. When Diocletian decided he had had enough of all those Christian sects thinking they are the only true faith, he instigated a purge in the course of which George got a beating. He was tortured, skinned alive, and his raw flesh rubbed with salt. After which he was executed, chopped to little bits, burned and buried three times. Still, or again, alive, his bones where then pulverized, his skull smashed, and his body and head sawed through the middle. Please note the order in which that was done. And there is no dragon and, it being the Roman army fighting on foot, no horse.

By 700 A.D., five skulls (complete and unharmed) of St. George were on display all over Europe, and there were more to come. The crusaders chose him as their patron saint, not surprisingly, to bully more knights into joining them. Being good Christians themselves, they went to kill people, as many as possible, and in full accordance with the scriptures they also plundered and raped anyone including Christians. Very good Christians they were therefore, probably even better ones than their chosen saint. And the chosen device, the St. George’s cross, became a sign for Christianity and peace.

By 1222, the English church made the saint’s day a High Holiday as important as Christmas. And still there was no dragon. But it was invented around that time as well, somewhere between the Crusades and the invention of the first unmentionable bank holiday. When King Henry VIII abolished all saints and their observances, as with all things forbidden St. George flourished.

With the Act of Union in 1801, the national flags of England (St. George’s cross), Scotland (St. Andrew’s cross), and Ireland (St. Patrick’s saltire) were amalgamated into the Union Jack. The centralizing function of the monarch was strengthened and people adhering to the old national days were at best ridiculed, at worst seen as traitors to the brave new world.

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