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Here is a Statue of St George and the Dragon in St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle from a post card bought by my son Matthew who was on a visit to the Royal Palace from Canada’s Northwest Territory.
Founding of the Colleges
On August 6th 1348 Edward III founded two new colleges’ symbols of his devotion and generosity to the Church these institutions essentially communities of priests were charged with celebrating divine service within the nerve centres of the Realm.
The first of these colleges was the College of St Stephen at Westminster Palace, home of the royal administration and justice, the second was the College of St George at Windsor Castle, seat of royal authority. Each College comprised twelve secular priests, a Dean, a vicar choral, twenty six canons, four professional singers, and six boy choristers.
The new colleges were founded in relation to existing chapels. At Westminster this was the chapel of St Stephen, whilst at Windsor the college was attached to the chapel of Edward the Confessor. This building underwent extensive reconstruction and was dedicated by Edward IV to the Blessed Virgin Mary to Edward the Confessor, and to St George England’s Patron Saint. At the time Edward was pressing his claim to the French throne he demonstrated his military prowess against the French in the Battle of Crecy. St George served as an appropriate patron for the successful prosecution of the War; King Edward admired his kingly virtues.
He associated a group of Knights with the college the so called Order of the Garter. There were 25 Knights of the Garter with the King at their head. It became a highly esteemed Order and remains so to this day.
Fate of the two Colleges
The two colleges became the most esteemed prestigious medieval in England .They fared differently, whilst St Stephens in Westminster suffered dissolution in 1548.,The Royal College of St George survived and today is represented by the Royal Chapel. It became the home of The Order of the Garter.
Patron Saint of England Saint George
Saint George was declared the Patron Saint of England in 1348. Subsequent monarchs shared enthusiasm for the Saint, Henry V flew the banner as he rallied his troops before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 as immortalised by William Shakespeare the Play Henry V
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining at the start, the games afoot,
Follow your spirit and up and charge,
Cry out for Henry, England and St George!
At convocation of the province of Canterbury 1415 the Archbishop declared the festival of St George to be a double major feast The Archbishop appointed St George to be the Patron and formal protector of the Nation Monarchs continued to support St George. Edward IV initiated the rebuilding of St George’s chapel at Windsor to produce a magnificent example of perpendicular architecture; the work was continued by Henry VII Most Tudor Monarchs supported St George as a hero and saint.
Celebration of Saint George’s Day
Not all Kings of England approved of such festivities! Edward IV was of different breed. He forbade the holding of the annual feast of St George’s at Windsor. Not so Queen Elizabeth I, who loved tournaments and reinvigorated the celebration of St George’s Day, Bonfires and fireworks were worthy of the Olympic Games, bonfires were held all over England.
In front of Queen Elizabeth I in 1613 there was a huge firework display - a fiery dragon was seen on horseback in the night sky, pursued by St George on horseback .For a moment they were locked in combat then the dragon exploded with a roar! Such was the spectacle than the young Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed over 400 years ago!
The spectacular shows were mainly for the elite but lesser folk also enjoyed the festival day Guilds founded in the `4th century formed by charitable clubs for the relief and suffering of the sick and poor were organised by the local guild of St George formed a pageant with effigies of St George and the dragon. Chester, Coventry, York and Norwich were just some of the sites where these rituals were held.
In some displays the dragon in became locked mortal combat with the Patron Saint’s image, the victor was the Dragon! (Nicknamed SNAPP). A troop of Mummers (country singers) would perform skits in with emphasis on lively fights rather than the religious aspects of our hero “ Sic transit Gloria ! “ (Thus passes fame!)
Basil JS Grogono Historian RSGSH