Do you know what the English Flag looks like?

Union Jack

No – nice try, but that’s the Union Flag : the flag of the United Kingdom. We’re looking for the flag of England alone!

English Flag

That’s right – it’s this second flag, with the white background and the red cross, that’s the flag of England, as opposed to the United Kingdom. But if you look carefully at the Union Flag, you can actually see the English flag hiding in the middle of it!

This flag is called St. George’s Cross – and it’s named after the patron saint of England, George. But who was Saint George, and, more importantly, how did he become the patron saint of a country he wasn’t even from? Read on to find out!

The Life of George

You might be interested to know that the patron saint of England not only wasn’t from here, but he most likely never came to England! 

The historical St. George was reportedly a soldier in the Roman army and a crusader (a person who fights in military conflict in the name of Christianity) who originally came from Cappadocia in Ancient Greece. This part of the world is now part of modern Turkey.

However, you might want to be a little suspicious of some of the things you hear about him : after all, the most well-known story about St. George has him fighting and killing a man-eating dragon, as shown in this famous painting by the Italian painter Raphael.

St George : crusader and part-time exterminator

You see, the dragon was being a bit of a nuisance : stealing sheep from the townsfolk of  Silene, Libya, and eventually asking for humans to eat when the sheep weren’t enough. Someone clearly had to deal with it! 

Enter George – he came to town, killed the dragon, rescued the young girl who was going to be sacrificed, and converted everyone to Christianity. At least, according to the legend!

It’s more likely that the historical Saint George was a martyr : someone who dies for their faith or beliefs. According to the Greek version of the story, he was decapitated (had his head cut off) outside Nicomedia, the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire, for refusing to give up his Christian faith.

This status as a Christian martyr means that George is a very popular saint across the world. Not only England, but Ethiopia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Catalonia, and Aragon in Spain also claim him as a patron saint!

St George's Day Traditions

St. George’s day – which traditionally takes place on the 23rd of April – is no longer held as a public holiday in the UK. Businesses and buses still run as usual.

However, the holiday is sometimes still celebrated in England with parades and dancing, and English people sometimes wear red roses on their lapels (their shirt collars) to mark the special day.

The flag of St. George also remains popular with English football fans, who have been flying the flag since the 1996 European championships!

So how much have you learned about England’s patron saint? Do the activity below to find out!

  1. The flag of the UK is called the Union Flag.
  2. St. George was from England.
  3. St. George was a soldier in the Roman army.
  4. St George was from what is now Turkey.
  5. In the legend, St. George killed a giant lion.
  6. St George’s battle was painted by Michelangelo.
  7. After the fight, St. George converted the town of Silene to Christianity.
  8. St George’s hands were cut off outside Nicomedia.
  9. St. George was a Muslim.
  10. St. George is also popular in Spain.
  11. St. George’s Day is a public holiday.
  12. Some people wear a white rose on their shirts to mark St. George’s day.
  1. True
  2. False. He was from Cappadocia in modern Turkey.
  3. True
  4. True
  5. False. He killed a dragon.
  6. False. It was painted by Raphael.
  7. True
  8. False. His head was cut off!
  9. False. He was a Christian.
  10. True
  11. False
  12. False. They wear a red rose.

For more information about British and English culture check out some of our other blogs, like What does it mean to be English? or all about Traditional British Food.

This is Ingla School of English‘s weekly blog, intended as reading practise for our students in Turnpike Lane, in London, and around the globe. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and take a look at the rest of our writing, much of which has activities for teachers to use in the classroom.