ENGLAND flags are out in force as the World Cup nears the knock-out stage – so you may find yourself wondering what the famous red cross means.
After The Sun won victory in our campaign to fly the flag over Downing Street, here’s all you need to know about “dragon slayer” knight St George, and why the banner named after him is red and white.
What is the St George’s Cross and where does it come from?
The Cross of St George, widely associated with the legendary soldier who is England’s patron saint, is believed to date back to the 12th Century.
Legend has it soldiers who fought at the Siege of Antioch in 1098 were helped by an army swathed in white, atop white horses, led by St George, St Demetrius, and St Mercurius.
There was no mention of the red cross at this stage. It only gained prominence in association with the Knights Templar during the Second Crusade of 1145.
In 1188, red and white crosses are understood to have been chosen to identify French and English troops in the Kings’ Crusade of Philip II of France and Henry II of England.
Together with the Jerusalem Cross, the plain red-on-white became a recognisable symbol of the crusader from about 1190.
By the 13th Century, it was adopted by several leaders and organisations who wished to associate themselves with the Crusades.
The Republic of Genoa may have been using it as early as during the 13th century.
It is widely used across Northern Italy as the symbol of Bologna, Padua, Genoa, Reggio Emilia, Mantua, Vercelli, Alessandria, and most notably Milan.
How did St George’s Cross become the flag of England and why is it red?
The connection between England and St George’s Cross goes back to the Middle Ages.
Red crosses appear to have been used by English soldiers from the reign of Edward I in the 1270s to distinguish themselves from the white crosses used by rebel barons at the Battle of Lewes.
The same monarch is believed to be responsible for the introduction of the cross as the national emblem.
Historic accounts are said to show the King’s tailor ordered large amounts of cloth which would mimic the “arms of St George” for English foot soldiers.
Who was Saint George?
Although Saint George is England’s patron saint, St George would likely have been a soldier somewhere in the eastern Roman Empire, probably in what is now Turkey.
He is also the patron saint of Ethiopia, Georgia and Portugal, and cities such as Freiburg, Moscow and Beirut.
According to legend, George was martyred for his faith under Emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century, and there is a major shrine dedicated to him in Lod, Israel.
The earliest legend that features Saint George slaying a dragon dates to the 11th Century.
Where does the legend of the dragon come from?
The tale may have started simply as a way to symbolise the triumph of good over evil.
According to one version of the story, a town in Libya had a small lake inhabited by a dragon infected with the plague.
Many of the townsfolk were being killed by the dragon so they started feeding it two sheep a day to appease it.
When the town ran out of sheep, legend has it that the king devised a lottery system to feed the hungry dragon local children instead.
But, one day his own daughter was chosen and as she was being led down to the lake Saint George happened to ride past.
The story goes that George offered to slay the dragon but only if the people converted to Christianity.
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