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St George's Day: Do we need a new Patron Saint?

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Why is it that we rarely celebrate St George's Day in England? After all, it was once a feasting, national holiday of the same sort of size as Christmas, from the early 15th century onwards.

Things started to go a bit wrong for poor St George after the union of England and Scotland and this downward drift in popularity continued throughout the 19th Century. Today, as we know, St George's Day is not a public holiday and there is a general apathy to celebrating it.

In recent years, there have been attempts to revive the day, with organisations like the BBC, English Heritage and the non-political Royal Society of St George doing much to promote some sort of celebration.

There has a been a small increase of the flying of the St George's Cross flag but other than churches, this seems to be mostly the preserve of pubs. There has also been some public reticence to flying the flag because of its perceived 'hi-jacking' by some far right-wing organisations.

So what is it that makes us so indifferent to celebrating St George's Day? One suggestion is that, as a nation, we don't have much of an emotional connection with poor old St George himself, as he was an obscure figure who had no direct link with England. When you contrast this with the celebration of Dydd Gŵyl Dewi in Wales, then there may be some logic in this.

Dewi Sant, born of the royal house of Ceredigion in the late 5th century, founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn on a headland in Sir Benfro where St David's Cathedral stands today. This became an important Christian shrine, and the most important centre in Wales, celebrating as it does, the nation's spiritual leader.

In contrast and according to one of many versions, St George, was born in Lydda in Palestine, of a Roman military family. He, himself, was a Roman soldier in the guard of the Emperor Diocletian. Having been brought up in a Christian tradition by his Greek (or Turkish) parents, George fell foul of the Emperor's edict that every Christian soldier in the army must sacrifice to the Roman gods. His refusal lead to him being executed by decapitation, outside Nicomedia. Apart from admiring George as a military, Christian martyr, our connection to him would appear to be tenuous.

George did not get promoted to patron saint of England until the 14th century, and he was still playing second fiddle to Edward the Confessor, the traditional patron saint of England, until 1552, when all saints' banners other than George's were abolished in the English Reformation.

In his homeland of Palestine, St George is venerated in much the same way as is Dewi Sant , in Wales. In fact, the BBC have this report on today's celebrations, click here for more.

Clearly, the English are not as enthusiastic about George. Would we feel more happy about a homegrown patron saint? Would we feel more of an emotional connection to, say, Saint Cuthbert or Saint Alban? Do we want Saint Edward the Martyr back again?

Or might we feel more enthusiastic about just celebrating all that is good about our nation on a national public holiday without the help of a figurehead, as do most Scandinavian countries?

However, when the World Cup comes around, no doubt there'll be a few more flags out.

We're a funny lot, aren't we?

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