Celebrate St George's Day 2008 At Museums And Heritage Sites

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 21 April 2008
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photo of a man dressed in full plate armour with a flag of st george behind him

Many St Georges will be strutting their armour-plated stuff this week. © English Heritage

The celebration of St George's Day, April 23, is enjoying something of a revival in modern times, with lots of events on offer around England to honour the country's dragon-slaying patron saint.

The emphasis is medieval, with castles and traditional games and sports taking pride of place, alongside a generous helping of good old English beer (Bombardier ale is supporting many of the events).

English Heritage is laying on a fine round of fun days for families at various of its historic venues, where you can find out more about the legend of George and get into the dragon slaying spirit. The following events run across the weekend of April 26-27 2008 (entry charges apply; free for English Heritage members).

Beeston Castle and Woodland Park is inviting visitors to see a clash of steel as medieval knights battle it out in a tournament. If you fancy some combat action yourself, you can have ago at the noble art of archery.

painting of a knight, dragon and princess

Above: Paolo Uccello, Saint George and the Dragon, about 1470. © The National Gallery, London

There's some dragon hunting going on at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens in Northumberland. Little ones are needed to help St George find mini dastardly dragons before they distress any damsels – with prizes to reward their hunting skills.

Also in Northumberland, Lindisfarne Priory will be buzzing with medieval townsfolk celebrating with feasting and archery, while falconry is the main attraction at Kenilworth's St George weekend (Warwickshire).

The Victorians liked to conjure up medieval times, so Scarborough Castle in Yorkshire is holding a grand pageant of St George in the presence of her majesty, Queen Victoria. Redcoat soldiers and musicians will be present, celebrating the day with military drills and rifle firing, and visitors can also meet George in his shiny armour, on horseback, ready to face a Saracen and dragon.

Caldicot Castle in Wales is also holding a medieval weekend (April 26-27) where you can meet dukes, countesses, squires and peasants as well as valiant knights. (Okay, it's not in England, but neither was the dragon slaying.)

photo of a sign for a pub called the george with a picture of a knight on horseback spearing a dragon on it

St George's day is the perfect time to find out a bit more about the legend of the English patron saint, commemorated here on a pub sign. © 24 Hour Museum/Graham Spicer

It's not only castles where you can find out more about St George and the times he lived in. The National Gallery in London is also a good place to go to learn the story of his courageous dragon fighting, with the help of the painting, 'St George and the Dragon' by the Italian artist Paolo Uccello (c1460).

The picture refers to the story of St George from a popular collection of stories of saints' lives written in the 13th century, known at The Golden Legend. In the painting, the saint defeats a plague-bearing dragon that has been terrorising a city, and the rescued princess brings it to heal, using her belt as a lead.

According to the legend, a dragon lived on the outskirts of a city called Silene in Libya. Citizens appeased the dragon by feeding him two sheep daily. When the supply began to run out, they fed him one sheep and one person, selected by drawing lots. One day, the lot fell on the king's daughter.

As luck would have it, George, a military tribune, passed where the dragon lived at the time the princess was awaiting her fate. George wounded the dragon and saved the princess, then they led the dragon back to the city so he could kill it in front of the citizens.

photo of a boy dressed in fake chainmail carrying a wooden sword and shield

© English Heritage

At Ironbridge in Shropshire, the famous story is coming to life at Blists Hill Victorian Town, where the Prince Albert Players will perform the story of good triumphing over evil at noon and 2pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 22 and 23.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is also putting on a performance of St George and the Dragon - but performed by puppets. Medieval inspired crafts and merry music will be going on, too, on April 26 and 27 (1pm-4pm).

For more myths and legends, and a resident dragon, stop by at Chelmsford Museum, where there's a touring exhibition with a special focus on tales involving dragons.

St Mary's Guildhall in Coventry is expounding the theory that St George wasn't from Cappadocia (Turkey), as legend has it, but was a local man born in Wyken, Coventry. The medieval Guildhall will be open to visitors on April 23 (10am-4pm) with guides on hand to talk about the theory, and the West Midlands saint will be around in the afternoon.

We might be a long way from returning to the 1500s, when St George's Day was one of the biggest feast days of the year in England, but who knows where this revival spearheaded by heritage sites and museums might lead?