April 23, 2023 12.00 pm This story is over 14 months old

St George’s Day: How Lincolnshire came to celebrate a saint who never set foot in England

The patron saint captured England’s imagination

Every April 23, Lincolnshire is decked out with the iconic cross of St George, while the hymn Jerusalem will ring out in churches.

England’s patron saint has a powerful spot in the public consciousness, and his feast day stretches back over a thousand years.

All schoolchildren know the legend of the brave knight facing down a dragon, while the national red and white flag of England is almost as widely used as the Union Jack.

Like the rest of the country, Lincolnshire is dotted with references to the saint, from St George’s Churches in Lincoln and Stamford, an academy in Sleaford and countless pubs called the George. The day is often celebrated with marches and music.

But the patron saint is never believed to have set foot in England during his life in fourth century.

He was born in what is now Turkey, and is thought to have been a Roman soldier of Greek descent.

Nearly all details about his life have been lost to history, but sources agree that he was put to death in on April 23 303 for refusing to renounce his Christian religion.

The cross of St George was adopted as the English flag

He became a martyr in the centuries after his death, and was also adopted as the patron saint of Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia and parts of Spain.

Legends grew up around his story, including a tale of him facing off against a dragon that was terrorising a Libyan city.

The beast apparently demanded animal sacrifices, and turned to humans when they ran out. When a princess was about to be offered as tribute, the warrior-saint fought and killed the dragon on horseback.

St George became increasingly popular in western Europe during the Crusades, where knights believed he fought alongside them in Jerusalem. 

In the 1500s, he overtook England’s traditional patron saint Edward the Confessor in the public imagination.

His influence can be seen in a famous line from Shakespeare’s Henry V – “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” (The famous playwright coincidentally died on April 23.)

Celebration of his patron saint’s feast has revived in the last few decades. There have been various attempts to make the day a public holiday, although none have been successful yet.

Although the Roman solider never set foot in the green hills of Lincolnhire, he has now become the epitome of Englishness.

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