St George's Day in England

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St George's Day in England
Date 23 April
Next time 23 April 2014 (2014-04-23)
Frequency annual
Saint George depicted in a church window.

Saint George is the patron saint of England and as such is celebrated annually on 23 April, the day of his death.

History of celebrating St George in England[edit]

References to St George prior to 1066[edit]

The earliest documented mention of St George in England comes from the venerable Bede (c. 673–735).[1] He is also mentioned in ninth-century liturgy used at Durham Cathedral[2] The will of Alfred the Great is said to refer to the saint, in a reference to the church of Fordington, Dorset.[2] Certainly at Fordington a stone over the south door records the miraculous appearance of St George to lead crusaders into battle.[1] Early (c 10th century) dedications of churches to St George are noted in England, for example at Fordingham, Dorset, at Thetford, Southwark and Doncaster.[2]

1066 (Norman Conquest) – 1707 (Union of the Crowns)[edit]

[1552] wher as it hathe bene of ane olde costome that sent Gorge shulde be kepte holy day thorrow alle Englond, the byshoppe of London commandyd that it shulde not be kepte, and no more it was not.

Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London 

In 1222 The Synod of Oxford declared St. George's Day a feast day in the kingdom of England.[2] Edward III (1327–1377) put his Order of the Garter (founded c. 1348) under the banner of St. George.[1] This order is still the foremost order of knighthood in England and St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle was built by Edward IV and Henry VII in honour of the order.[1] The badge of the Order shows Saint George on horseback slaying the dragon.[1] Froissart observed the English invoking St. George as a battle cry on several occasions during the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453).[2] Certain English soldiers displayed the pennon of St George[3] In his play Henry V, William Shakespeare famously invokes the Saint at Harfleur prior to the battle of Agincourt (1415): "Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'" At Agincourt many believed they saw him fighting on the English side.[1]

St George's Day was first officially celebrated in England as a holiday in 1399[4] and was a major feast and national holiday on a par with Christmas from the early 15th century.[5] The Cross of St George was flown in 1497 by John Cabot on his voyage to discover Newfoundland and later by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.[6] In 1620 it was the flag that was flown by the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Plymouth Massachusetts[6]


The tradition of celebration St George's day had waned by the end of the 18th century after the union of England and Scotland.[7] Nevertheless this timeless link with St George continues today, for example Salisbury holds an annual St George’s Day pageant, the origins of which are believed to go back to the thirteenth century[2]

The Royal Society of St. George was founded in 1894 and famous members have included Sir Winston Churchill

Modern celebration of St George's day in England[edit]

A crowd celebrates Saint George's Day at an event in Trafalgar Square in 2010

In recent years the popularity of St George's Day appears to have been gradually increasing. BBC Radio 3 had a full programme of St George's Day events in 2006, and Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford, has been putting the argument forward in the House of Commons to make St George's Day a public holiday. In early 2009 Mayor of London Boris Johnson spearheaded a campaign to encourage the celebration of St George's Day. Today St George's day may be celebrated with anything English from morris dancing to a Punch and Judy show.[8] In 2011, a campaign to make St. George's Day a public holiday in England began on the UK government's e-petition website. It received 4,266 signatures, not achieving the 100,000 signatures required before the deadline in August 2012 to make a debate of the matter in the House of Commons a possibility. [9]

A traditional custom on St George's day is to wear a red rose in one's lapel, though this is no longer widely practised. Another custom is to fly or adorn the St George's Cross flag in some way: pubs in particular can be seen on 23 April festooned with garlands of St George's crosses. It is customary for the hymn "Jerusalem" to be sung in cathedrals, churches and chapels on St George's Day, or on the Sunday closest to it. Traditional English foods and drink (e.g. afternoon tea) may be consumed.[citation needed]

Traditional Activities on St George's Day:[8] Wear red rose, Morris Dancing, Mummers Play, Brass Band, Hog Roast, Falconry Display and medieval Jousting

There is a growing reaction to the recent indifference to St George's Day. Organisations such as English Heritage, and the Royal Society of Saint George (a non-political[citation needed] English national society founded in 1894) have been encouraging celebrations. There have also been calls from some commentators to replace St George as patron saint of England, on claims that he was an obscure figure who had no direct connection with the country.[10] However there is no obvious consensus as to whom to replace him with, though names suggested include Edmund the Martyr,[11] Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, or Saint Alban, with the latter having topped a BBC Radio 4 poll on the subject.[12]

British scouting organisations such as The Scout Association celebrate St George's Day. St George was selected by scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell as the patron saint of the movement. Most scout districts host events on the Sunday closest to St George's day, often a parade and religious service for their members.[13]

Shakespeare anniversaries and St George's day[edit]

This composite portrait of William Shakespeare by 90 artists was organised by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire. The picture was unveiled by Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on 23 April 2006.

Additional celebrations involve the commemoration of the 23 April as Shakespeare's birthday and death. Shakespeare is known to have been baptised on 26 April 1564 and to have died on 23 April 1616. 23 April is widely recognised as his traditional date of birth and commemorated on this day every year in his home Stratford upon Avon and throughout the world.

Other notable anniversaries on St George's Day[edit]

The 23 April is also the anniversary of the birth of the artist J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), the death of the Romantic poets William Wordsworth (1770–1850) and Rupert Brooke (1887–1915). The 23 April is also notable as the day of death of the following Englishmen: Wihtred, King of Kent (725); King Ethelred of Wessex (871), Ethelred II of England (1016), and the cricketers Jim Laker (1986) and Denis Compton (1997) In addition, on 23 April 871 Alfred became King of Wessex, on 23 April 1348 the English order of knighthood founded,[14] in 1661 King Charles II of England was crowned in Westminster Abbey and on 23 April 1924 was the first Broadcast by an English Monarch (King George V at the opening of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley).

Other anniversaries include:

Timing of celebrations[edit]

Religious observance of St George's day changes when it is too close to Easter. According to the Church of England's calendar, when St George's Day falls between Palm Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter inclusive, it is moved to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter.[15][16] In 2011, for example, 23 April was Holy Saturday so St George's Day was moved to Monday 2 May. The Catholic Church in England and Wales has a similar practice.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Religions - Christianity: Saint George". BBC. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f [1][dead link]
  3. ^ "Froissart: The English in Portugal Mutiny". Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  4. ^ Groom, Nick (2007). The Union Jack: the story of the British flag (Paperback ed.). London: Atlantic Books. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-84354-337-4. 
  5. ^ Tradition English Festivals
  6. ^ a b "A History of Saint Goerge". Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  7. ^ McSmith, Andy (23 April 2009). "Who is St George?". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  8. ^ a b "How to celebrate St Georges Day - celebration event". 2007-11-06. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  9. ^ "Make St. George's Day a Public Holiday - e-petitions". Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  10. ^ Crutchlow, Dayle (2006-07-05). "Hands off our patron saint, by George!". Coventry Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  11. ^ A new Patron Saint of England? (2008-06-26). "Suffolk – Community – A new Patron Saint of England?". BBC. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  12. ^ "Radio 4 – Today – St Alban". BBC. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  13. ^ "St George's Day celebrations". The Scout Association. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  14. ^ "An A-Z of Important Dates in British History". 1992-12-03. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  15. ^ The Church of England (2011-04-22). "The Calendar: Rules to Order the Christian Year". Common Worship. Retrieved 2011-04-22.
  16. ^ The Church of England (2011-04-22). "The Calendar: Table of Transferences". Common Worship. Retrieved 2011-04-22.
  17. ^ The Catholic Church in England and Wales (2011-04-22). "Liturgical Calendar: May 2011." Liturgy and Ordo 2010–2011. Retrieved 2011-04-22.