By George it's time for our patron saint

FOR nine centuries a Middle Eastern soldier has been loved and admired. Today JAMES MARSTON celebrates England's patron saint - and we urge Suffolk to puts the flags out on Monday.

FOR nine centuries a Middle Eastern soldier has been loved and admired. Today JAMES MARSTON celebrates England's patron saint - and we urge Suffolk to puts the flags out on Monday.

ONCE upon a time in a far away land, there was a young soldier who guarded a great Emperor.

The soldier, a Christian, was ordered to persecute Christians across the empire but because of his faith, he refused and was tortured on a wheel of swords.

On April 23, 303AD his head was cut off. His name was George and he was a martyr.

Or was it? The story of St George could be true but it was so long ago no one really knows.

But all this hardly matters, as for 1,700 years people have celebrated St George and nothing is going to change that.

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In the 15th century, St George's Day was once a major feast in England on a par with Christmas and today The Evening Star is urging our readers to stand up and be counted in celebration of the great saint and all he stands for.

Forever associated with England, St George's day is a great excuse to rejoice, make merry and be thankful to be English. As the decorations go up at The Royal George pub, in Colchester Road, Ipswich, landlord Gavin Hails, who describes himself as a patriotic Englishman, said he is planning a number of events to celebrate the day.

“We kick off with a singer on Friday night and on Sunday we are having a full English carvery. St George has become more and more popular. It is a good opportunity for us but also a celebration of Englishness. It's a chance to go back to our English roots.”

Getting the flags out ready for the big day, the 33-year-old added: “It would be nice if April 23 was a national holiday. I think its a shame that St Patrick's Day gets so much more attention than St George's Day. Perhaps real ale should be the drink people associate with St George's Day.”

Robert Peedle, vice chairman of the Royal Society of St George, added: “England needs a national day. Scotland has St Andrew's day, Ireland has St Patrick's Day, and Wales has St David's Day which is great but England needs St George's Day too.

“Whether it should be a bank holiday is up to the politicians, but April 23rd should be England's national day.”

St George may not have been English, but for 900 years England has taken him to its heart.

Robert said: “I believe the adoption of St George is a good example of medieval spin. Richard the Lionheart claimed to have had a vision of St George and St George inspired the crusaders.”

“There were lots of people that could have become our patron saint but because of the crusades they needed a saint was not only religious but also a warrior.

“St George was a good symbol and he has since proved a very successful patron saint. He was a Christian and a very successful soldier. He rose to the rank of tribune, equivalent to a colonel in the British army, he was no slouch and he rose through merit.

“St George stood up for his beliefs. He sold his slaves, gave away his wealth and possessions, he was probably tortured and he was executed for his faith, he refused to bow down to the emperor as a god.”

But St George wasn't even English and he never came to England - or did he?

Robert said: “St Patrick wasn't Irish and St Andrew wasn't Scottish. St George had a great friend in the army called Constantine and Constantine was the commander of Roman Colchester.

“Legend has it that St George came through France to visit his friend in East Anglia. Rumour has it he also made pilgrimages to York and Glastonbury.

Recent attempts to make other saints the patron saint of England have so far failed to gain momentum.

St Edmund - with strong East Anglian roots, his name has been mooted as a possible successor to St George. Robert said: “He was killed in battle and rumuor has it he was a bit of a coward. He was a king of a small part of England. I wouldn't think he stands a chance.

St Alban - Britain's first Christian martyr, he was killed in Hertfordshire in AD304. Robert said: “He just doesn't inspire people in the same way as St George does.”

St Boniface - English man from Devon, the patron saint of Germany and the Netherlands. Robert said: “We could have had him but he wasn't in the military. He didn't fit the bill.”

Robert said St George's day is a way of celebrating Englishness.

He added: “The story of England and the English is one of history's most remarkable sagas. The word "England" conjures up many different images: from our great cities with their imposing Georgian and Victorian architecture to the Medieval castles and cathedrals of our country towns and the delightful villages and tranquil meadows of the rural shires, England's green and pleasant land.

“St George is still part of our national life. It is our distinctive culture, values and traditions which are the unmistakable marks of English nationhood.”

N What does St George mean to you? How will you be marking the occasion? Call the Newsdesk on 01473 324788 or e-mail eveningstarnews@eveningstar.co.uk.

St George's day is traditionally the occasion when the Queen announces new appointments to the Order of the Garter.

Saint George is now the most venerated saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches. He is the patron saint of Canada, Catalonia, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, the cities of Istanbul, Ljubljana and Moscow, as well as a wide range of professions, organisations and disease sufferers.

According to Christian belief, Saint George (c. 275-281-April 23, 303) was a soldier of the Roman Empire, from Anatolia (now modern day Turkey), who was venerated as an Islamic and Christian martyr.

In the year 303, Diocletian issued an edict authorizing the persecution of Christians across the Empire.

The emperor Galerius was supposedly responsible for this decision and would continue the persecution during his own reign (305 -311 ).

George was ordered to take part in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision.

Enraged, Diocletian ordered the torture of this apparent traitor , and his execution .

After various tortures, beginning with being lacerated on a wheel of swords, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia's defensive wall on April 23 , 303 .

The witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom.

His body was returned to Lydda for burial , where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.

A church dedicated to St George remains there to this day.

He is immortalised in the tale of George and the Dragon. In the story, a dragon makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the kingdom.

The citizens have to remove the dragon from his nest for a time, to collect water. Each day they offer the dragon a human sacrifice.

The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happened to be the princess. The distraught king begs for her life with no result. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears the saint on his travels. He faces the dragon, slays it and rescues the princess. The grateful people abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

Angela Merry, of Linksfield, Rushmere St Andrew said: “It's more than likely that I wont be celebrating St George's Day, although it should be celebrated as a national holiday. As we get the least bank holidays we should be due another. ”

Michael King from Hewitt Road, Ramsey, said: “I don't celebrate the day because St George's Day holds no real meaning to me. I would certainly take the day off if it was a national holiday.”

David Southgate, of Upper Brook Street, Ipswich said: “I'll probably completely ignore St George's Day, I'll more than likely be working. As a country we should celebrate it as a national day - St Patrick's day is always well publicised and celebrated so why not St George's?”

Leah Easey, from Gainsborough in Ipswich said: “I know about St George's Day, but personally I won't be celebrating. I possibly would if we had a holiday for it. We definately don't celebrate it like we should.”

Sue Webb from Goodwood Close, Ipswich, said: “I won't be celebrating the day. I agree that it should be a national holiday and that we should get the day off. We should take more of an interest in our heritage.”

Hazel Fullbrook from Defoe Road, Ipswich, said: “St Georges Day doesn't really mean anything to me; I probably won't be celebrating the day. However, I do think it's a shame that English patriotism isn't celebrated like it should be.”

Caroline Chilver from Edmonton Road, Kesgrave, Said “I know who St George is, and the myth of slaying the dragon, but the day itself doesn't mean anything to me and I doubt I will celebrate the occasion.”

News of St George probably first reached England when the crusaders returned from the Holy Land in the 12th Century.

Edward III was known for promoting the codes of knighthood and in 1348 founded the Order of the Garter. During his reign, George came to be recognised as the patron saint of England. Edward dedicated the chapel at Windsor Castle to the soldier saint who represented the knightly values of chivalry.

William Shakespeare firmly placed St George within the national conscience in his play Henry V in which the English troops are rallied with the cry “God for Harry, England and St George.”

On June 2 1893, Pope Leo XIII demoted St George as Patron Saint for the English, relegating him to the secondary rank of 'national protector' and replaced him with St Peter as the Patron Saint of England.

In 1963, in the Roman Catholic Church, St George was further demoted to a third class minor saint and removed him from the Universal Calendar, with the proviso that he could be honoured in local calendars.

Pope John Paul II, in 2000, restored St George to the Calendar, and he appears in Missals as the English Patron Saint, with Pope Leo's pronouncement ignored.

With the revival of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, there has been renewed interest within England in St George, whose memory had been in abeyance for many years.

It is customary for the hymn Jerusalem to be sung on St George's Day, or on the Sunday closest to it. Scout troops in the UK also take part in a St George's Day Parade on the nearest Sunday to April 23.

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