TODAY is St George’s Day. He is the patron saint of England, a title that dates back to the 14th century.

St George was a native of Cappadocia, in Asia Minor, and he became a tribute (officer) in the Roman army during the third century AD.

Legend tells us that he was passing through Libya and had just reached a lake near Silene when a dragon was about to attack the king’s daughter, Princess Sabra.

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Basingstoke Gazette: Collection of St Georges Day images

Being in military uniform and with his weapon, he slew the creature with one blow of his lance.

This killing became great news across the country, for everyone feared the dragon and the incident became a symbol of triumph over evil.

But George was not to enjoy his fame for very long, for when he heard about the way the Romans were treating the Christians, he lodged an official complaint, which reached the Emperor, Diocletian, and he was thrown into prison.

George was later beheaded, on April 23, 290AD, but he was not forgotten, for in 303AD he was declared a martyr. He was buried at Lydda, near the Palestine coast.

It was the members of the many crusades in the 14th century that brought back the story about George, and Edward III of England adopted George as the patron saint of the country.

The King instituted his name in the Order of the Garter in 1348. 

St George’s flag is a red cross on a white background and is used as part of the Union Jack. The red rose is his flower and, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the one-pound note showed St George slaying the dragon.

During that later period, St George’s Day was celebrated by military groups and at various schools in England.

April 23 was also the date when William Shakespeare, the playwright, was born in 1564, and the same date that he died in 1616, so it was a prominent occasion for the country to celebrate.

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Another saint with connections to a dragon is St Michael, who is depicted on the Basingstoke Armorial Bearings design, below features which represent the area in Basingstoke and Deane.

St Michael was evidently chosen from the parish church in Church Square, which received its name during the reign of William I when the King gave the church to the Abbey of Mount St Michael, of Normandy, in France. He also gave it one hide of land (about 120 acres) and the tithes of the Basingstoke manor.

Mont St Michel (as it is known in France) is a village in the department of Manche, in France, and is built on a steep granite rock, some 160 feet high, in the Bay of St Michel, about half a mile from the mainland.

A raised causeway runs along the beach to the rock. On top of the high mound stands the old Benedictine Abbey, which was founded in 708AD. It is said that St Michael appeared on the mount and thus it became a holy place.

Little is known of St Michael, whose day is September 29, except that he was one of the three archangels mentioned in holy scriptures – the others being St Gabriel and St Raphael. Michael was the object of a cult from the earliest Christian times, and a church was built for him in the fourth century near Constantinople.

Saint Michael, like Saint George, was also depicted as having slain a dragon. The myth says he was called to fight against a demon, who had transformed himself into a dragon, with many pieces of artwork depicting the battle.

Another geographical feature in Cornwall is named St Michael’s Mount, but it has no connection with our parish church except by name.

It is four miles from Penzance and stands nearly a mile off shore from Marazion. The mount rises to 250 feet and is topped by a castle. It also has a chapel, which dates back to the 14th century. The mount also has a causeway which is covered by the sea each day, so a boat is needed at times.

The castle was made into a fortress by the Benedictines in 1047.

There has been confusion by writers in the past about the two saints, and the two places associated with St Michael, so it is hoped that this feature sets the record straight.

This article was written by Robert Brown and published on April 23, 2004.