Lighting up the library for St. George's Day

Saturday 23 April 2022

Image of St GeorgeOn the evening of Saturday 23 April the exterior facade of the Library of Birmingham will be lit up red and white to mark St. George's Day.

St George's Day falls each year on 23 April, the anniversary of St George's death. St. George is the patron saint day of England.

Despite being adopted as the patron saint of England, St George wasn't actually English, and most likely never stepped foot in the country. Born around AD 280, in what is now known as Cappadocia, Turkey, St George was a Christian martyr and became a soldier in the Roman army, later progressing to the role of a personal guard for the Emperor Diocletian. The emperor was one of the leaders of the Great Persecution of Christians, where churches were destroyed, scriptures were burnt and followers of the religion were prohibited from joining the army and assembling for worship. But his personal guard, St George, protested against the persecution and remained dedicated to his Christian faith, consequently facing imprisonment and torture. He was later beheaded in Palestine on April 23, AD 303. His head was taken to, and stored, in the church dedicated to him in Rome, and the rest of his body was buried in Lod, Israel.

His strength, courage and loyalty to his faith soon spread around Europe, and it even inspired his wife, who apparently became Christian, and also faced execution.

As well as his army background and dedication to his faith, St George is famous for fighting a dragon, which commonly symbolised the Devil during the Middle Ages. Legend suggests St George fought a dragon and saved a princess in the town of Silene - although this is most likely a myth. According to legend, the only well in Silene was guarded by a dragon and each day, residents had to make human sacrifices in order to access the water. A princess was the next person to be sacrificed and on the day she was due to be killed, St George bravely fought the dragon to save her. After St George successfully killed the dragon, the people of Silene were finally granted free access to the well, and in gratitude, they turned to Christianity.

Even though St George never stepped foot on English soil, he officially became the patron saint of England around 1348, after King Edward III established the Order of the Garter in his name. From the 14th Century, St George was regarded as a special protector of the English and following England's victory at Agincourt in 1415, Archbishop Chichele raised the celebration of St George to a Double Feast.

Shakespeare made sure St George was never forgotten, concluding the Henry V, Act III, speech with ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George'.

St George's Cross, which is England's flag and now forms part of the Union Jack, is the symbol displayed on April 23. Dating back to the year of 1188, crosses were first used by King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France for their crusade symbols. Despite England adopting a white cross at first, they later switched to a red cross, which was used as part of the uniforms of English soldiers in several battles. Edward I eventually made this symbol a national emblem during his reign. Today, St George's cross is used frequently at football, rugby and cricket games, with fans wearing scarves, painting their faces and flying flags to show their support for England.

Article posted 14 April 2022

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