George, Martyr, Patron of England, April 23, 304
Remembered as a martyr, the details of the life of George have been lost in time, although fifth-century records attest his existence, and to the beginning of his commemoration. In all probability George was a soldier, and a victim of the Diocletian persecutions in Lydda, in Palestine. The known facts of his life state that George, an officer in the Roman Army, ‘gave his goods to the poor, and openly confessed Christianity before the court’.
Diocletian was responsible for the most devastating and sustained persecution of the Early Church, from 303 to 304. Only his abdication prevented more permanent damage being sustained to the Church, and many unknown Christians, like George, would have given their lives for the sake of the gospel, and would have been remembered with gratitude from that time onwards. The more popular stories of the life and death of George can be traced back to the eighth century. The slaying of the dragon is not connected with his name until the twelfth century, and it may be that the origin of this story is the Greek myth of Perseus slaying a sea monster. George’s story was included in the ‘Golden legend’ (1260), which became a popular source of ‘history’, and received widespread attention in the Middle Ages.
His popularity as a saint of national identity grew with the Crusades, and he became the patron saint of soldiers. Richard I called upon him for protection before the third Crusade in 1187 and a red cross on a white background, became the ‘uniform’ of his crusaders and, in time, England’s national flag. George was personified as the ideal knight. He was made patron of England in preference to Edward the Confessor by Edward III in 1347. Shakespeare added to the reputation of George, when he ‘re-created’ Henry V’s speech before the battle of Agincourt (1415) in which St George is invoked as a powerful ally of king and nation:
"Follow your spirit; and upon this charge,
Cry, ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!’"
(Henry V, Act III, Scene i)
Unless otherwise stated, the source of this post is Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England,
Saints on Earth: A Biographical Companion to "Common Worship"