Posts Tagged ‘St George’

St George’s Day 2016

Saturday, April 23rd, 2022

April 23rd 303 was not a good day for George from Cappadocia. Diocletian, then the senior Roman Emperor had previously purged the Roman Army of Christians but had not really otherwise bothered too much about them, but he was persuaded by fellow emperor Galerius to take a harder line, and after consulting the oracle of Apollo began a general persecution across the empire on February 23, 303, which continued for the next 10 years or so.

For some reason George had escaped the previous army purge was was still serving as a member of Emperor Diocletian’s personal bodyguards. Tradition has it that he refused to recant his faith and was sentenced to death, being beheaded at Nicomedia on 23rd April. Rather different versions of his life (and death) grew up in the Greek and Latin churches. But certainly many Christians were killed by the Romans and George certainly represents one of many brave men who died rather than recant, most probably in the earlier years of Diocletian’s reign.

St George, Emperor Diocletian, the priestess or haruspex and the emperor’s daughter

Legends built up around him, few of which like that of the dragon (an 11th century addition) will have been true. It’s unlikely that he was subjected to more than twenty separate tortures over the course of seven years or that his martyrdom led to “40,900 pagans were converted to Christianity, including the empress Alexandra.” You can read more about him on Wikipedia.

His martydom began to be celebrated in Lydda in Palestine where he was thought to have died, and pilgrims came there and later to Cappadocia where he is thought to have come from. He was made a saint by Pope Gelasius I in 494, who said his was one of those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God“.

St George fights the dragon on the Passmore Edwards Public Library, long closed

His fame spread across Christendom, though it was only in the ninth century that the first church was dedicated to him in England – and not until 1152 that he displaced Edward the Confessor as the patron saint of England, although he had become a part of some English battle cries in the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) and among the Crusaders, when many went from England to fight against the Muslims in Palestine between 1095 and 1291.

St Georges Day was made a major feast here in 1415 and 1421, a holiday where church attendance was compulsory and other festivities took place. Later its celebration declined, particularly after the union with Scotland, and had more or less died out by the 20th century.

In recent years there has been something of a revival, spurred on in part by the increasing festivals of other communities, sometimes supported by local councils. There has been an increasing emphasis too on our national teams, particularly the English Football and Rugby teams, with minor fixtures being promoted through the mass media in a way that in earlier years was reserved for the major sporting events – the Grand National, the FA Cup FInal and the Boat Race.

London’s dragons are mainly Chinese

The St George’s Flag had become something seldom seen outside football matches, except in the hands of small racist right-wing groups who called themselves patriots. Unfortunately recent years have seen a growth in these, and some have organised celebrations of St George’s Day, but there has also been a growth in less political events, with even English Heritage encouraging celebrations. Radio 3 has celebrated it, and both Conservatives and the Labour Party have campaigned for it – with Labour calling for it to become a public in both 2017 and 2019 manifestos.

The pictures here are from 23rd April 2016, I started the day photographing a couple of protests over the sale of illegal ‘blood diamonds’ from Sierra Leone at Selfridges in Oxford Street and Tiffany in Sloane Square before going on take pictures about St George’s Day, beginning around lunchtime in Trafalgar Square, where despite the support of mayor Boris Johnson little was happening. I went to the Roman Catholic St George’s Cathedral in Southwark, calling in briefly at the peace garden in the Imperial War Museum across the road as I waited for people to arrive for the St George in Southwark Procession.

This, led by led by St George, a Roman Emperor, the Mayor of Southwark and others and with a dragon at its rear made its way from the St George’s RC Cathedral to the Church of England St George the Martyr in Borough High Street.

I’d not been inside this before and went in with those taking part for a short address before we came out and the procession formed up. It wound its way through the back streets of Southwark and I was pleased as we went past the Priory on Webber Street to be able to tell the mayor something about Bert Hardy who had recently got a blue plaque there. I’d only met Hardy a couple of times, but one of my friends had worked at Grove Hardy as a printer.

The procession ended with a play in the yard beside St George the Martyr, but I left before it finished. Earlier I’d agreed to meet a couple of photographer friends at the start of the procession, but I think they had got lost on the way there, but I’d now arranged to find them on London Bridge. There seemed to be little going on at the George Inn on Borough High St, but at the King’s Head we walked into the bar and were seated by the window when St George walked in with a few mates. It obviously wasn’t the first pub they had visited. After he had got a pint I went and asked if I could take a few pictures, and he began posing, though moving rather too much in the low light.

After I had taken his picture a rather friendly dragon came up to the bar, followed by a second St George, and I photographed the two St Georges together. And as we left the bar, there in the street was the second of them with his dragon friend – and I took a few more frames.

More on most of these events and the other two protests I photographed that day:
St George in Southwark Procession
Peace Garden at War Museum
St Georges Day in London
Sierra Leone Blood Diamonds at Tiffany
Sierra Leone Blood Diamonds at Selfridges


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St George

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

The details of the life and death of St George (as you can read in Wikipedia) are recorded in accounts dating back to around 1600 years ago, though details vary and the Pope in 494 CE who officially made him a saint called him one of those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God.

According to the early texts, George was born in Cappadocia, now a part of Turkey, where his father came from, but his mother was a Palestinian Christian. Cappadocians were generally historically regarded as Syrians, though St George’s family are usually said to be of Greek descent. St George became, like his father, a Roman soldier, becoming a member of the elite Praetorian Guard, and was beheaded in the eastern capital of the Roman Empire on 23 April 303CE, 1718 years ago, during Emperor Diocletian’s purge of Christians who refused to recant the faith.

His behaviour and suffering apparently convinced one prominent Roman woman, Empress Alexandra of Rome, possibly the Emperor’s wife – to become a Christian – and to share his fate. The purge failed to have its intended result, and around 21 years after George’s execution, Christianity became the preferred religion in the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine.

George’s body was buried in Lydda in Palestine and Christians there soon became to regard him as a martyr. Some legends say that his martyrdom resulted in the conversion of not just the Emperors’s wife but 40,900 other pagans.

The dragon came along considerably later, only appearing in legends around 700 years after his death, apparently terrorising the city of Silene in Libya, which there is no evidence that St George ever visited. The dragon in my picture above, from a St George’s Day procession in Southwark, seems to have come from Chinatown. But dragons can fly.

The traditional patron saint of England was the last king of Wessex, Edward the Confessor who died in 1066, and it was only in 1552 that as a part of the English Reformation that St George officially became the only saint recognised in England, although along with various other countries English armies adopted him during the crusades and in our battles with the French in the Hundred Years War from 1337-1453. Surprisingly we didn’t drop St George although we lost rather badly.

St George’s Day remains an official feast celebrated by the Church of England, usually, though not always, on April 23, as Easter sometimes interferes. Rather more is made of it by some other countries and churches.

The St George’s cross, widely used by football supporters and right-wing extremists in England, comes from the 10th century in the city of Genoa in Italy, becoming used in England in 1348 when Edward III founded the Order of the Garter and made St George its patron saint. It has never been officially adopted as the national flag, though now widely used as such. It is of course a component of many other flags, including the UK’s national flag.

Over the years I’ve photographed many different celebrations of St George’s Day in and around London, and the pictures come from a few of these in 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2016.

2005 St George’s Day
2009 St George & the Dragon
2009 England Supporters,Trafalgar Square
2009 The George Inn, Southwark
2009 The Lions part: St George & the Dragon
2009 St George’s Day – Trafalgar Square
2011 St George’s Day in London
2016 St George in Southwark Procession
2916 St Georges Day in London


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.