Saint George’s Day

boo st george 2

My horse wearing a fly rug in the colours of Saint George. She’s Welsh and doesn’t look too impressed. 

George is the patron saint of England and his feast day is still celebrated on April 23 with the displaying of the English flag, which bears George’s red cross.

In medieval tradition, Saint George was the Virgin Mary’s champion knight; England itself was regarded as the Virgin’s dowry.

Saint George’s cult had both elitist and populist aspects. On the one hand, he was the saint of nobility and monarchs. To join the Guild of Saint George, one had to own a horse, which made it exclusive indeed, because in the Middle Ages, as now, horses were expensive to own and keep. Poorer folk relied on oxen to pull their carts and ploughs.

On the other hand, the name George means farmer. In his earthier aspect, George was the patron of horses and the low born people who looked after them for their wealthy masters.

The following is a late medieval charm against the night-mare, which was believed to be a hag that entered the stable by night in spirit form and rode the horses until they were exhausted. This superstition was very long lived. Margaret Pearson, one of the Pendle Witches of 1612, was accused of bewitching to death a mare in the village of Padiham.

Saint Jorge, our Lady Knight,
He walked day, he walked night,
Till that he founde that foule wight; (foul spirit)
And when that he her founde,
He her bete (beat) and he her bounde,
Till trewly ther her trowth she plight (till she finally made her vow)
That she sholde not come by night
Within seven rod of lande space
Theras Saint Jeorge y-named was.
St. Jeorge, St. Jeorge, St. Jeorge.

This rhyme was written on a piece of paper or parchment, then tied into the horse’s mane. To ensure full power, an amulet or piece of flint with a natural hole was also hung over the stable door. Earliest reference to this charm dates back to 1425-50, but it appeared in a book on witchcraft as late as 1584.

From C. and K. Sisan (eds.), The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, Oxford, 1973.

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For an amusing image of Saint George, click here (http://bit.ly/StGeorge).

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