St George was adopted as patron saint of England by one of our great warrior kings, Richard, of whom Shakespeare wrote: “Richard who robbed the lion of his heart and fought the Holy wars in Palestine.”
Richard was one of the leaders of the third crusade, triggered by the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1189.
When Richard, against all the odds, defeated Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191, a mysterious warrior wearing the crusading insignia of a red cross on a white surcoat, was seen at the forefront of the fighting.
The local soldiery proclaimed him to be their patron saint – St George, a Roman centurion born at Lydda, 20 miles from Jerusalem. He was known to be a great warrior but was executed in the 3rd century AD by order of the Roman emperor Diocletian for refusing to countenance the persecution of Christians.
Richard forthwith adopted him as our patron saint with his battle cry, “St George for England,” as opposed to his fellow crusader Philip’s cry of: “St Denis for France.” Richard also restored the Church of St George at Lydda, where the saint is buried. And although I cannot vouch for its existence today, the ruins were still there in 1945.
Richard also funded the Knights Templar Pilgrims’ Castle on the coast ten miles south of Haifa and, under the peace treaty he made with Saladin, arranged for pilgrims arriving there to be escorted to and from Jerusalem by the Templars.
As for St George never having set foot in England, Richard, although born in Oxford, spent only six months of his reign here.
It seems to me that George is an eminently suitable saint for England. Besides, what would the Union Jack look like without the cross of St George?
G Price, Valley Drive, Brighton