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In Catalonia, northern Spain, it is traditional to give a rose and a book to a loved one to mark the national feast for St George. This practice inspired the date to be adopted for World Book Day. It has a further literary significance as the playwright William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616.
It is not just England that celebrates St George as its patron saint. The long list of other territories includes northern Spain, China, Ethiopia, Montenegro, Georgia, Greece, Portugal, Russia, and Serbia. He is also the patron saint of the Scouting movement.
April 23 - the date upon which St George's Day is celebrated in many countries - is traditionally accepted as the date of his death (in the year 303AD).
George is thought to have been adopted by soldiers as their patron saint after stories that appeared to the Crusaders at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Other tales returned home with the returning Crusaders and when Richard I was in Palestine in 1191, he put the army under the protection of St George.
The familiar image of the cross of St George – a red cross on a white background - was introduced as the national flag of England in 1194 by King Richard I.
George seems to have been recognised as a saint some time around 900 AD. The earliest know British reference to him dates back to an account made by St Adamnan, the 7th century Abbot of Iona, and St George is also mentioned in the writings of Bede.
In 1222, the Council of Oxford declared April 23 to be a lesser holiday in honour of St George’s Day and he replaced Edward the Confessor as England’s patron saint in the 14th century. In 1415, April 23 was made a national feast day and it was to observed like Christmas Day. However by the end of the 18th century the holiday was reduced to a day of devotion for Catholics in England.
Little is actually known about the man celebrated as St George. Some sources maintain he was born a Christian in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) around 270 AD joined the Roman army at the age of 17, gaining renown for his bravery and serving under the Emperor Diocletian. When he heard Diocletian was persecuting Christians, he tried to persuade him otherwise but was beheaded for refusing to renounce his faith.
However the earliest source of the story, Eusebius of Caesarea, writing around 322, told of a soldier of noble birth who was executed on April 23, 303AD - but did not refer to his name, country or origin or burial place.
George was adopted as the patron of Edward III’s new chivalrous order The Knights Of The Garter in 1348. St George's Chapel, Windsor, is the official seat of the Order, whose membership includes the Queen and the Prince of Wales