MOST PEOPLE know that St George is the Patron Saint of England. However, he is not the only Patron Saint the country has known.
Even so, it is strange that few people will be able to tell you much about St George. Our country, over the centuries has enjoyed an almost unequalled state of well-being. I often wonder if it is because we have more than one saint watching our fortunes.
There are two saints — almost forgotten patrons of our land:St Edmund, King, who was martyred defending his kingdom in 869 when fighting the invading Danes.
His patronage is shown from the place-name Bury St Edmunds where his shrine was sited.
Kings of England carried his name in their banners up to the reign of Edward III; the first English pilgrim hospice established in Rome is named after him and in the National Gallery in London his name will be seen first in the line or English patrons in the Wilton Diptych.
St Edmund was King of East Anglia when the Danes landed; he was chased around the country for three years — his enemies committing appalling acts of pillaging and barbarities.
When finally captured he was tied to a tree and used as a practice target for bows and arrows before finally being beheaded.
His feast day is November 20. An unusually devout king, he lived in a tower in his castle for a whole year to learn the psalter off by heart. He was 29 at the time of his death and his whole life was a preparation for the martyrdom he suffered.
Another erstwhile patron saint of England was St Edward the Confessor, son of Ethelred the Unready. He was King of England from 1042-1066. His death and burial are commemorated in the Bayeux tapestries. He was canonised in 1161 and was Patron Saint until replaced by St George in the 13th century.
He was known a "Father of the Poor" and despised all riches. He was largely responsible for the building of
Westminster Abbey — rebuilt later by Henry HI. He died a week before its consecration and his shrine can still be seen in the Abbey. His feast day is October 13.
Today, St George is acknowledged as the Patron. Saint of England. His feast day is April 23. Much of what is told about him is legendary.
One of these legends is that he saved the town of Sylene in Libya from a man-slaying dragon with a particular appetite for children. The legend has it that he wounded the dragon and led him back to Sylene leashed on the girdle of the King's daughter. It is from this legend that St George is commonly portrayed on horseback slaying the dragon.
From fiction to fact — by profession St George was a soldier in the army of the Emperor Dioclesian whose cruel and severe acts caused St George to complain. As a result he was imprisoned and beheaded in 303.
St George was declared by Rome to be "Protector of the Realm" and from the time of Richard the First he became the personal patron of the kings of England.
He was born of Christian parents at Cappadocia and his father also suffered martyrdom. His banner with a red cross on a white background forms the basis of our Union Jack.
As well as Patron Saint of England St George is also Patron of Portugal, Germany, Aragon, Genoa and Venice.
How he became adopted as Protector of England is not clear. He was certainly known in England before the Norman Conquest and was probably often discussed among the Crusaders on their return to this country.
King Edward III, who founded the Order of the Garter in 1348. named St George as Patron of the Order.
His day was made a feast day in 1415 and it still retains its oldimportance and is in the Roman Calendar.
Perhaps, when you think about him on April 23 it will be as a martyr and not as a knight on a white charger.