St. George, books and dragons
April 23rd, St. George's Day and also World Book and Copyright Day, which as an English bibliophile makes this one of my favourite days of the year.
So who was George and why did he become a saint?
According to Catholic Online, George was a Roman soldier from modern-day Turkey who was martyred on 23rd April 303AD as he would not renounce his faith when ordered by the emperor Diocletian.
He was canonised by Pope Gelatius who described him as one of the saints, "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God."
So what's with the dragon?
As with many saints or well-known figures, legends grow up around them. One particular myth seems to have stuck - that of him slaying a dragon.
That myth originally appeared in stories told by the medieval Eastern Orthodox Church. The Crusaders brought back the story during the 10th and 11th centuries, and as everyone likes a good story, it became quite popular.
Apparently, there was a town in Libya that was plagued by a dragon living in its lake. The dragon, being a hungry fellow, was feasting on the townspeople, so to appease it they started feeding it sheep every day. Sadly, the town soon ran out of sheep - obviously the next best thing is a child, so that's what the townsfolk started to feed it.
The children were selected by lots and then one day the king's daughter was selected. As luck would have it, George happened to be passing and he made a deal with the king - convert to Christianity and I'll sort out your dragon problem.
The deal was struck; George dutifully slayed the dragon and the king built a church where the dragon had died.
So George was Turkish, he killed the dragon in Libya - why is he England's patron saint?
Edward III decided to make George the country's patron saint in 1327, just after he came to the throne. George had just the type of image that Edward wanted England to portray to the rest of the world - powerful and warlike.
Of course, George is also patron saint of a few other places too: Malta, Georgia, Ethiopia, Venice, Catalonia among others.
OK. St. George and books are they related in any way?
Not directly, but in Catalonia, and in particular Barcelona, books or roses are given as gifts on St. George's Day (Diada de Sant Jordi).
As I mentioned, St George is patron saint of Catalonia and in the 15th century he became associated with love - hence the giving of roses. In 1926, Spain decided to create its first Book Day, originally for the date of Cervantes' birthdate in October. However, it was eventually decreed to be 23rd April, Cervantes' purported death date.
With both St George's day and book day now occurring on the same day, it made sense to offer either a rose or a book as a gift to loved ones on that day. The event is particularly popular in Barcelona with market stalls selling books or roses lining Las Ramblas.
How did Book Day spread beyond Spain?
In 1995, UNESCO established April 23rd as World Book and Copyright Day. And now approximately 80 nations take part in the celebration of literature and reading. The date is the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, as well as that of the birth or death of several other prominent authors, including Miguel de Cervantes.
What's the point of World Book Day?
Reading is a way in which people of all races, beliefs and backgrounds can come together equally. Of course, there are always blockages to that equality: poverty, inhumane societies and disabilities are just some of the obstacles that can prevent children going to school and learning to read. By highlighting these causes and also the solutions that have been put in place to overcome those obstacles, we are walking towards an inclusive society.
2017's UNESCO World Book Capital City is Conakry in Guinea " in recognition of its programme to promote reading among youth and underprivileged sections of the population".
World Book Day is a chance to celebrate books as the desire and means by which we can share knowledge, ideas, understanding and tolerance.
Long Live the Book!