Wall painting of St George at Farleigh Hungerford Castle

9 things you didn't know about St George

Think of St George and you're probably picturing a heroic knight slaying a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon. As the country's patron saint, today St George's story is as iconic as his white and red flag. But like many early saints, the exact details of his life remains a mystery.

Here we separate fact from fiction to try to get closer to the truth behind the legend of St George. Hint: It might not be what you think.

A painting of St George at Farleigh Hungerford Castle

1. St George wasn’t English…

St George might be hailed as a national hero, but he was actually born more than 2,000 miles away. He is thought to have been born in Cappodocia (modern day Turkey) and to have died in Lydda (modern day Israel) in the Roman province of Palestine in AD 303. It is believed that his tomb was in Lod and was a centre of Christian pilgrimage.

A close up of htree people dressed in armour

2. …And he wasn’t a knight either

He may have worn some sort of shining armour but George was probably a soldier, not a knight as we think of him in popular culture today. From the 11th century St George was depicted in sculpture as a knight or a warrior on horseback, but the truth is less fanciful. It is more likely that he was an officer in the Roman army.

Several men pretend to be defeated in battle

3. St George was a martyr

Like many saints, St George was described as a martyr after he died for his Christian faith. It is believed that during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, St George was executed for refusing to make a sacrifice in honour of the pagan gods.

A man in armour rides a horse and carries the English flag

4. He never visited England

While it's highly unlikely that St George came to England, his reputation for virtue and holiness spread across Europe from about the 7th century. During the Third Crusade in the 12th century, Richard I placed himself and his army under the protection of St George. He also adopted the emblem of St George, a red cross on a white background, which was worn as a uniform and later used on the English flag.

A small boy confronts the dragon

5. The dragon was added later

The famous tale of George and the dragon was popularised in the late 13th century in Jacobus de Voragine's The Golden Legend, which was a compilation about the lives of saints. The story goes that St George rode into Silene (modern day Libya) to free the city from a dragon who had a taste for humans. The Golden Legend was translated and published in English in the late 15th century.

The pages of a medieval story about St George

6. St George was a saint for 1000 years before the 'holiday'

St George was canonised in AD 494 by Pope Gelasius who claimed he was one of those 'whose names are justly revered among men but whose acts are known only to God'. A feast day of St George has been celebrated in England for hundreds of years on 23 April, which was possibly the date of his martyrdom. Following the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, St George's Day became one of the most important feast days in the English calendar.

A woman in a crowd holding the English flag

7. England isn't the only country to celebrate St George

St George is a truly an international saint and England is not the only region to claim him as its patron. England shares St George with Venice, Genoa, Portugal and Catalonia among others as their patron saint and many of these places have their own celebrations and ceremonies in his honour.

A group of men wearing English medieval battle uniforms

8. He's a patron of many things

It's not just cities and countries that have St George as their patron either. During the Middle Ages, St George was regarded as one of the 'Fourteen Holy Helpers' - a group of saints people turned to for assistance during times of need. St George is also the patron of other things including soldiers, armourers, farmers and even sufferers of the plague and syphilis.

A child dressed as a knight rides on a woman’s shoulders

9. St George continues to be linked to one of England's top honours

Edward III is said to have founded the Order of the Garter on the site of Eltham Palace in 1348. To this day his cross still appears on the Garter badge and his image is the pendant of the Garter chain. The Order of the Garter is the highest order of chivalry in the country and Queen Elizabeth II is at the helm as Sovereign of the Garter.

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