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Thursday, 23 April, 1998, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
The great St George revival
St George
If England was anything like Ireland then huge crowds might be expected to gather in the streets on 23 April, dancing, drinking and proudly wearing roses to celebrate St George's Day.

But most people are unlikely to be aware that there is any cause for celebration. St George, a third century martyr, dragon-slayer, rescuer of maidens, figurehead for the Crusaders and patron saint of England has been gradually forgotten over the centuries.

The return of St George

The English Tourist Board's St George's week logo
One organisation that hopes to change all that is the English Tourist Board, which has this year adopted St George as its icon and has planned a week-long campaign around the saint's day. It hopes to make St George's day as popular for the English as St Patrick's Day is to the Irish.

Lawrence Bresh from the Tourist Board said he hopes that the St George celebrations will encourage both English people and visiting tourists to go out and discover what England has to offer.

The special events include music festivals, cider drinking and medieval dragon-fighting tournaments, all designed to make the English reflect fondly upon their nationality.

No bank holiday

The rose represents St George as well as the Labour Party
The government has no plans to raise St George's profile by making the day into a national holiday.

A spokesman at the Department for Trade and Industry said that the prospect "was not even being considered". So any celebrating will have to be done outside of work hours.

A toast to St George

English wine growers are hoping revellers will toast St George with a glass of home grown wine. They are also planning to invade France and challenge the locals to sample some of their finest wine from grapes grown in the fields of Cambridgeshire, Hampshire and Kent.

English wine growers hope the French will drink less of their own wine
A spokeswoman for the English Wine Growers' Association explained: "English wines remain one of England's best kept secrets, hence the idea to promote them on the most obviously English of all days, St George's Day."

Oddly, English wine is cheaper in France than it is in Britain, but it remains to be seen if this added value will tempt our Gallic cousins to try a bottle.

The Church of England has also helped to boost St George's day in recent years. In 1996, the General Synod voted to give the day the status of a full festival after it fell out of religious favour during the Reformation.

Greetings cards

If you decide that you really want to get into the spirit of the event, greetings card companies are now selling "Happy St George's Day" cards.

One company based in Yorkshire even offers a "Special St George's Day theme pack" which includes a "PVC dragon banner", "English rose garlands" and a "six-piece Crusader Armour Décor Set".

The mystery man

Shakespeare wrote "Cry God for England, Harry and St George!"
St George also shares his day with the most famous Englishman of all, William Shakespeare, who was born on the April 23. In Shakespeare's play Henry V, the king rallies his troops with the battle cry: "Upon this charge, cry God for England, Harry and Saint George!"

There is very little information about the life St George, but it is known that he was not English. He is thought to have been an early Christian martyr from the area of modern day Turkey, who was executed in Palestine in the third century.

St George was martyred in Palestine in the third century
Legends about his valorous deeds as a soldier-saint began in the 6th century and by the 12th century the famous story about his rescuing a king's daughter and slaying a dragon had become widespread. Some experts think the tale is based on the Greek myth of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from a sea monster.

Patron saint

St George was popularised in England by Crusaders, Christian knights returning from religious wars in the Middle East. He was supposed to have appeared to the Knights dressed in white robes decorated with a red cross during the 11th century siege of Antioch.

He became the official patron saint of England in 1425 after Henry V's victory at the Battle of Agincourt. The Red Cross of St George is England's national flag and it also forms part of Britain's Union Jack.

However, the English are not the only people to stake a claim in St George. In the Middle East, Christians invoke his powers to help exorcise demons. In many countries St George is associated with fertility and his day marks the very beginning of summer. In Lithuania he is revered as the guardian of animals and in parts of Spain St George's day is celebrated with feasts and gift giving.

See also:

17 Mar 98 | stpatrick
The day the world turns green
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