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St George’s Day: Why the patron saint of England is important

Immortalised in the legend of St George and the Dragon, his feast day, 23 April, is celebrated in England and several other countries in Europe and the world.

St George, who died in AD 303 and was canonised by Pope Gelasius in AD 494, has long been regarded as a military saint, known as the patron of soldiers. 

The English have celebrated St George’s Day for hundreds of years, on what is believed to have been the day of his martyrdom, despite the fact he never visited England. He was born what is now modern-day Turkey and buried in Israel.

His importance to English soldiers is noted as far back as 1100 when it is said the English army sought the Saint’s protection. Ever since then, St George has inspired many soldiers as they headed into battle.

William Shakespeare gives St George mention in ‘Henry V, Act III, Scene I’, as the monarch shouts his famous battle cry, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more … God for Harry! England! and St George!” at the Siege of Harfleur in 1415 during the Hundred Years War.

Our soldiers share another important link to St George. He was known to be one of the 14 Holy Helpers, saints who could help during epidemics throughout the Middle Ages. It is said his protection was invoked against infectious and sometimes fatal diseases.

During the pandemic thousands of troops, from all our nationalities, have been supporting the NHS by driving ambulances, delivering PPE, COVID-19 tests, vaccines and as medics working within local NHS Hospital Trusts.

English regiments and soldiers hold dear the knightly virtues associated with the ‘soldier saint’ - steadfast courage, honour, fortitude in adversity, faith and charity - and celebrate St George's Day wherever they are in the world.

All our national patron saints’ days bring us together in traditional celebrations that are shared across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;  St Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Scotland, is marked on 30 November, St David is remembered on 1 March for the Welsh and St Patrick is celebrated on 17 March in Northern Ireland.

Infantry regiments of the British Army with antecedent roots in England include: The Rifles, The Yorkshire Regiment, The Royal Anglian Regiment, Coldstream Guards, Grenadier Guards, Duke of Lancaster Regiment, Mercian Regiment, Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and Parachute Regiment (nationally recruited).