St George, Maypole mayhem and a nod to Shakespeare
Wednesday 23rd April 2014
Today is St George’s day – the national day of England’s patron saint – so in honour of this there has today been fun and frolics down on Wharf Green. Unfortunately, I missed the parade with the giant figure of St George himself leading proceedings, so by the time I arrived in town he was standing rather impassively on Wharf Green overseeing all the activities going on there with the schoolchildren. There’s a small gallery of photos lower down.
So who is this dragon slaying St George figure then? Unsurprisingly perhaps this fourth century Christian martyr is not English at all but was probably born in Roman Palestine. He was a soldier in the Roman army becoming venerated as a Christian martyr in later years. It’s interesting to note that England is not the only country with a patronage of St George. There are actually a great number including Georgia, Egypt, Bulgaria, Portugal, India, Catalonia and Barcelona, Greece, Israel and Palestine amongst many others. He is also the patron saint of the Scout Movement and a wide range of professions and organizations.
The legend of George slaying the dragon to save an innocent maiden from an unpleasant death dates from medieval times. We celebrate his day on this date as it is reputed to be the day of his martyrdom in 303.
But whatever the ins and outs of St George’s heritage there is a long tradition of celebrating him in this country with some celebrations dating back to at least the thirteenth century. So the activities in Swindon today are in good company. The inSwindon people had schoolchildren taking part in all manner of fun activities down on Wharf Green amongst which was Maypole dancing with musicians, Folk Dance Remixd, playing an interesting mix of folk and urban dance music – I think that’s what the lovely ladies of Swindon dance said anyway!
However, in the middle of all this patron saint wonderment let’s not forget another important reason to celebrate the 23rd April: William Shakespeare and his birth and death. Our William is known to have been baptised on the 26th April 1564 and to have died on 23 April 1616. Hence the 23rd April is recognised widely as his traditional date of birth and thus commemorated the world over.
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