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Happy St George's Day

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Some people wonder why the English took St. George as their patron saint, but to the English it must have seemed obvious: They rode horses, and liked to travel, and so did George. They were adventurous, and George was fond of adventures, too. They rallied to hopeless causes, and so did he, taking on a fire-breathing dragon to save a girl and her city. And as if that were not enough, George was chivalrous. What more do you want? Ah, yes, success. Well, St George succeeded in slaying the dragon.

On his way to becoming the patron saint of England, St George became the patron saint of English farmers (his Greek name means farmer), soldiers, and kings. In 1381, the farmers and artisans marching on London and the King in the Great Revolt marched under the banner of St George. (The Great Revolt is often called the Peasants Revolt, but not by the farmers and artisans who organized it.) They demanded an end to the much-hated poll tax; an end to serfdom; and the repeal of the law that unfairly froze their wages to pre-Black Death rates. The royal reaction was violent, but though a number of the rebels died, the poll tax was lifted, and serfdom faded away in Britain.

It was not long afterwards that St George was being “linked by name to beneficent institutions of all kinds, to hospitals and charities as well as churches. . .” (Oxford DNB). He appeared in plays all over England. Every guild and association named him as its patron. His personal charms were evident in cheerful pub signs that showed him reviving himself with a beer after his struggle with the dragon.

He’s a keeper.

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