Today is the day of St George, the patron saint of England, and, as it happens, the birthday of England's world renowned playwright, Shakespeare! (The great bard was born back in 1564 and he reputedly died on the same day in 1616).
Despite his famous dragon-slaying heroism, St George is not as widely celebrated as the other patron saints of the United Kingdom (St Andrew, St Patrick and St David) and recently there have been calls to revive the festival and even suggestions that St George should be replaced by a saint more closely related to England, such as St Alban. Little is known about the real St George. He was born in Turkey in the 3rd century CE into a Christian family and later moved to Palestine. He became a Roman soldier and protested against the Roman's persecution of Christians, for which he was imprisoned , tortured and beheaded. It's said that during the time of the Crusades he appeared in a vision to the Normans, granting them victory, and this is where he connection with England began. St George represents the ideals of bravery, honour and chivalry and, as well as England, became the patron saint of soldiers, knights, farmers, riders and more recently of scouts, as well as of several other nations, including Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece.
St George's day customs include the flying of the flag of St George, a red cross on a white background, the singing of the hymn Jerusalem and the wearing of a red rose, the national flower of England. The rose, the queen of flowers, has long been associated with England and the red rose has been England's emblem since the Wars of the Roses in which the royal houses of York (represented by a white rose) and Lancaster (represented by a red rose) battled it out for the throne from 1455 to 1485. Henry VII of the the victorious house of Lancaster became king and combined the white and red roses to make the Tudor rose (red with a white centre) when he married Elizabeth of York. Shakespeare himself went on to write about the Wars of the Roses in his history plays Henry VI and Richard II.
The red rose has since become a powerful and enduring symbol of romantic love, as wrote Scotland's famous poet, Robert Burns "O, my luve is like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June."
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