St George’s Day, celebrated on 23 April, is the feast day of the Christian Saint George, patron saint of England as well as of several other countries, including Georgia (unsurprisingly), Bulgaria, Portugal and the Maltese island of Gozo, as well as various cities and communities around the world.
The original George was a Greek officer in the Roman army who was beheaded on 23 April 303 (after numerous torture sessions) for refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods after the Emperor Diocletian had ordered all Roman soldiers to do so. The legend of George and the dragon appears to have arisen later – partly as an allegorical representation of George defeating the might of Rome (with the maiden in the legend representing Diocletian’s wife Alexandra, who became Christian as a result of George’s martyrdom).
However, George didn’t become England’s patron saint until well into the late Middle Ages. Previously the patron had been Edmund the Martyr, a king of East Anglia who was killed by the Danes in 869 and whose name was adopted by the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds. King Edward the Confessor of England was also considered a patron of England following his canonisation in 1161. After Edward III adopted George as patron of the Order of the Garter in 1348, George also became the patron of the English monarchy and by extension of England itself.
The St George’s Cross was adopted as England’s national flag in the 16th century following its use in the Crusades – although originally English crusaders used a white cross on a red background as their emblem.