This story was originally written for the Daily Express, found here.
TODAY’S Google Doodle is an atmospheric illustration of the dragon-slaying Saint George.
To celebrate St George’s Day, the homepage for Google’s UK site has changed to a moody watercolour of a knight facing up to a dragon.
The Google logo can faintly be seen amid the swirls of muted fog in the background.
While St George’s Day is the national day of England, the patron saint is actually of Middle Eastern origin and celebrated by Christian churches across Europe and North Africa.
As such, he’s also the patron saint of many countries including Greece, Portugal, Egypt and Ukraine.
He gained cultural significance in England when his emblem, St George’s Cross, was used in Richard I’s Holy Crusades in the 12th Century, and has remained the flag of England.
St George’s Day has been celebrated as a feast day in England since the 15th Century, at which time it shared a level of significance with Christmas.
However, the event’s popularity waned over the centuries as England united with Scotland and it became increasingly apparent that the saint had no formal connection to England.
This better-known myth, The Golden Legend, involves Saint George travelling across marshland in Libya to a city that was continually menaced by a dragon.
The townspeople fed the dragon sheep to keep it placated and when that no longer worked, they started to elect human sacrifices.
For one of these sacrifices, the king’s daughter was selected but Saint George arrived in the nick of time to intervene and save her life.
He faced down the dragon on horseback and managed to wound the beast but instead of landing the final blow, he decided to tame it and brought his prize back to the city.
Very little is known about the actual Saint George as his history has drowned in centuries of myth but we do know that he served in the Roman army in the 3rd Century when he fought against Rome’s persecution of Christians.
He remained true to his faith, even after being captured and tortured (he was eventually beheaded), making him a martyr.
Religious texts claim that Christ himself healed George’s wounds during his torture and lightning and earthquakes struck when he was due to be executed.
Celebrating St George’s Day today people traditionally consume English food and drink. Banners of St George’s cross – a red cross on a white background – are hung and displays of Morris dancing are staged.
Pubs festooned with as many England flags as possible have become a common sight on St George’s Day, though there is a perceived overlap between patriotism and nationalism.
Indeed, a survey carried out in 2010 found that two-thirds of English people did not publicly celebrate St George’s Day for fear of being branded racist.
In a more historically accurate celebration of English culture, April 23 is also the birthday (and death date) of William Shakespeare.
The world famous playwright and poet is celebrated every year in his hometown of Stratford upon Avon.
The Globe Theatre in London is currently holding events to celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary.