Saint George's Day in England

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Saint George's Day in England
South Darley St George.jpg
Saint George depicted in an English church window
Observed by English people
Church of England, Catholic Church in England and Wales
Significance Anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint George in 303 AD
Celebrations Church services, celebration of English culture
Date 23 April
Next time 23 April 2016 (2016-04-23)
Frequency annual
Related to St George's Day in other countries

Saint George is the patron saint of England and as such is celebrated annually on 23 April, the day of his death in 303 AD.

Saint George never visited the British Isles in his lifetime, but during the Middle Ages he became revered by the English and according to legend fought on their side in the Crusades and the Hundred Years' War. After the union of England and Scotland in 1707, celebration of the day waned in popularity, but in modern times it remains as a celebration of English culture.

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] His feast day is also mentioned in the Durham Collectar, a ninth-century liturgical work.[2] The will of Alfred the Great is said to refer to the saint, in a reference to the church of Fordington, Dorset.[3] 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 Fordington, Dorset, at Thetford, Southwark and Doncaster.[3]

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 

Edward III (1327–1377) put his Order of the Garter (founded c. 1348) under the patronage 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).[3] Certain English soldiers displayed the pennon of St George[4] In his play Henry V, William Shakespeare has the title character utter a now-famous invocation of 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 feast day in England was no different from the numerous saints on the liturgical calendar until the Late Middle Ages. In the past, historians mistakenly pointed to the Synod of Oxford in 1222 as elevating the feast to special prominence, but the earliest manuscripts of the synod’s declaration do not mention the feast of St George.[5] The declarations of the Province of Canterbury in 1415 and the Province of York in 1421 elevated the feast to a double major, and as a result, work was prohibited and church attendance was mandatory.[6]

During the Tudor period the celebration of feast of Saint George's was abolished along with most of the other saints, with them went the tradition of flying saint's flags in public (to be replaced with royal badges on banners). The one exception was the Cross of Saint George.[7]


The tradition of celebration St George's day had waned by the end of the 18th century after the union of England and Scotland.[8] The Royal Society of St. George, dedicated to promoting English culture including St George's Day, 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.[9] 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.[10]

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, the flag of England, 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:[9] Wear red rose, Morris Dancing, Mummers Play, Brass Band, Hog Roast, Falconry Display and medieval Jousting

St George's Parade in Stone Cross, West Bromwich (April 2014)

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 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.[11] However, there is no obvious consensus as to whom to replace him with, though names suggested include Edmund the Martyr,[12] Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, or Saint Alban, with the latter having topped a BBC Radio 4 poll on the subject.[13]

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.[14]

Shakespeare anniversaries and St George's day[edit]

Main article: William Shakespeare
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]

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). It 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 was founded,[15] 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.[16][17] In 2011, for example, 23 April was Holy Saturday so St George's Day was moved to Monday 2 May and in 2014 it was celebrated on Monday 28 April. The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has a similar practice.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Religions - Christianity: Saint George". BBC. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  2. ^ Bianchi, Hanael (2014). St. George's Day: A Cultural History of England's National Day. Owings Mills, MD: Caliber and Kempis. p. 38. 
  3. ^ a b c [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "Froissart: The English in Portugal Mutiny". Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  5. ^ Cheney, C. R. (1964). Councils and Synods and other Documents relating to the English Church Vol. II, Part 1, 1205-1265. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 101, 104. 
  6. ^ Bianchi, Hanael (2014). St. George's Day: A Cultural History of England's National Day. Owings Mills, MD: Caliber and Kempis. p. 42. 
  7. ^ Perrin, William Gordon (1922). British flags, their early history, and their development at sea. Cambridge University. p. 40. 
  8. ^ McSmith, Andy (23 April 2009). "Who is St George?". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  9. ^ a b "How to celebrate St Georges Day - celebration event". 2007-11-06. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  10. ^ "Make St. George's Day a Public Holiday - e-petitions". Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  11. ^ Crutchlow, Dayle (2006-07-05). "Hands off our patron saint, by George!". Coventry Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  12. ^ A new Patron Saint of England? (2008-06-26). "Suffolk – Community – A new Patron Saint of England?". BBC. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  13. ^ "Radio 4 – Today – St Alban". BBC. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  14. ^ "St George's Day celebrations". The Scout Association. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  15. ^ "An A-Z of Important Dates in British History". 1992-12-03. Retrieved 2012-07-26. 
  16. ^ The Church of England (2011-04-22). "The Calendar: Rules to Order the Christian Year". Common Worship. Retrieved 2011-04-22.
  17. ^ The Church of England (2011-04-22). "The Calendar: Table of Transferences". Common Worship. Retrieved 2011-04-22.
  18. ^ The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales (2011-04-22). "Liturgical Calendar: May 2011." Liturgy and Ordo 2010–2011. Retrieved 2011-04-22.