Facts and Factoids of the Four Saints of the UK&I.
When we design Greeting Cards for niche occasions, we like to get to know the festival or occasion as fully as we can. We do lots of research, both online and offline, and in the process we often find some very interesting facts and legends. It’s what makes our work so exciting – we never know what we’re about to learn!
Recently we’ve been researching the four Saints Days – St George (England), St Patrick (Ireland), St David (Wales) and St Andrew (Scotland) – for some new additions to these ranges. What we learned was pretty interesting to us, so we thought we’d share some of the facts and factoids with you in this blog post.
St George – Patron Saint of England
St George is one of those “whose names are justly revered among men but whose acts are known only to God”
Very little fact is known about St George – much of what we found out about him is caveat as myth or legend. So much so that in 1969 Pope Paul VI demoted Saint George to ‘optional worship’ due to doubts about the authenticity of his history. This directive was reversed in 2000 by Pope John Paul.
St George was born to Christian parents in Cappadocia, an area now in Turkey, around 280AD. Following the death of his father, his mother took him back to her hometown in Palestine where he became a soldier in the Roman army. He served under the Roman emperor Diocletian.
However he resigned his post in protest at the emperor’s diktat to persecute Christians. For this he was tortured. Legend has it he was “killed” multiple times, but was resurrected each time. He never gave up his faith despite the extreme torture methods used. He was eventually beheaded in 303AD.
The emperor’s wife was inspired by St George’s dedication to his faith and she converted to Christianity too, leading to her also being beheaded.
23rd April marks the anniversary of his death (it’s also the death anniversary of William Shakespeare!).
St George and the Dragon
St George is often depicted on a white stallion, wearing a red tunic and spearing a dragon. The story of George and the Dragon became popular in a book called The Golden Legend in the 1400s and goes like this.
An area known as Seline in Syria was besieged by an angry and vicious dragon. The people of Seline offered the dragon two sheep daily to prevent it attacking them. This failed so they started offering a sheep and a person, chosen at random via a lottery (not the kind of lottery you want to win really is it!). On one day the King’s own daughter was selected. The king tried to buy her freedom with all his riches, but the people were adamant that she should be sacrificed like many before her.
She was sent to the lake where the dragon resided, dressed as a bride. Saint George was by chance passing the area on horseback and asked her what she was doing. She compelled him to leave, lest he be killed by the dragon too, but he stayed. The dragon emerged and charged forward to attack them. Saint George drew his sword, made the sign of a cross and promptly speared the dragon, wounding it into submission. He then instructed the king’s daughter to tie her girdle (a type of belt) around the dragon’s neck and lead it back into the town.
The sight of the dragon in the township caused mass panic. George asked the people to have faith in the Lord and offered to slay the dragon. The King and his people thus converted to Christianity in their thousands.
More than just the Patron Saint of England.
St George is the Patron Saint of England, and also the Patron Saint of many other countries including Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece;
He is also the Patron Saint of Scouts. Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout movement saw qualities in St George which he believed should also represent the Scouts – responsibility, truthfulness, devotion to duty, a brave heart, a noble spirit, & dedication to helping others (source: The Scouting Pages).
St George’s Day Greeting Cards.
We’ve seen a marked increase in St George’s Day Greeting cards over the last few years – they are now our second best selling Saints’ Day cards after St Patrick’s Day. It’s hard to determine the reason for this, and we believe there are a number of factors – recent royal weddings, royal babies, the London Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond jubilee, increasing patriotism in other GB countries, and, dare I say it, even Brexit may have had a positive effect on St George’s Day card sales! You’ll see our full range of Saint George’s Day cards here.
St Patrick – Patron Saint of Ireland
“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers.”
St Patrick was born in England during the reign of the Roman Empire, sometime in the 4th century. His place of birth is recorded in his own autobiography (entitled Confession) as Bannavem Taburniae – although exactly where this was is not known. Suggestions are that it may have been in or close to Wales).
When he was around 16 years old, he was captured by Irish pirates and sold into Irish slavery. For six years he was forced to work as a herdsman in the field. As a child, he was not a believer in God , but his faith grew strong in the years of captivity.
St Patrick had regular ‘visions’ from above, and in one such vision he was instructed to go to the coast where a boat was waiting for him. He followed the instructions, and surely enough he was able to escape and returned to England to be reunited with his family.
He describes in his autobiography a subsequent vision in which people in Ireland were calling out to him ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us’. This spurred Patrick on to become ordained as a Catholic priest, and within a few years he returned to Ireland as a missionary.
Ireland was at the time run by Druids, part of the Celtic culture. St Patrick faced much resistance and hardships, but his perseverance paid off, and over 30 years he converted pretty much all of Ireland to Catholisism.
St Patrick died on the 17th March approx 401 AD. This date is celebrated as St Patrick’s Day, not just in Ireland, but around the world.
St Patrick’s Day Celebrations around the world
Over the centuries, the Irish community have flown from the homeland and settled across the globe. There are now over 40 million people of Irish heritage in the USA alone. They may have spread their wings, but their roots have grown ever stronger. St Patrick’s Day is now celebrated in no less than 35 countries across the globe.
New York celebrates with arguably the largest parade outside Ireland, while Tokyo imports Guinness especially for the occasion. Buenos Aires in Argentina, home to the world’s 5th largest Irish population becomes one big street party each year to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
Many iconic buildings, including the Great Wall of China, Sydney Opera House, The London Eye and the Burj Al Arab in Dubai “go green” to mark the occasion.
Irish pubs around the world become focal points of the celebrations, with the traditional Guinness, Irish Whiskey and the obligatory recital of limericks being traditions of the occasion.
Although St Patrick never mentions the shamrock in his memoirs, he is often depicted with the three leaf clover representing the Holy Trinity.
St Patrick’s Day Greeting Cards.
Of all the four Saint Days in this article, by far the largest for sales of Greeting Cards is St Patrick’s Day. St Patrick’s Day is a time of wishing good luck on to others – “the luck of the Irish” and St Patrick’s Day greeting cards are a very personal way to convey these sentiments. See our range of Saint Patrick’s Day cards here.
St David- Patron Saint of Wales
“Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.”
Saint David is the only Saint in this article who was actually born in his own country of patronage. His birth was actually predicted decades earlier by Saint Patrick in one of his visions (see above).
While knowledge of Saint David may have been available before his birth, details of his life now are sketchy and mixed in with a healthy dose of legend and mysticism. David was born in the early part of the sixth century to Sant, the king of Ceredigion (now a county in Wales) and a nun called Nonnita (who may have been a niece to King Arthur). It is said he was born atop a cliff in a heavy storm in Pembrokshire. The site is marked today by Non’s Chapel.
Saint David grew up to be a priest, and during his lifetime he made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was consecrated bishop. He founded many churches and monasteries around England and Wales, including one at the site where today St David’s Cathedral is located. Incidentally the presence of a cathedral makes the area of St David’s a city – the smallest city in the UK!
Saint David was a strict vegetarian, and a non-drinker. Legend has it he only drank water, and became known in Welsh as Dewi Ddyfrwr (“David the water drinker”).
Saint David died on 1st March around 589 AD. He became a saint in 1120 AD when he was canonised by Pope Callactus, and 1st March was declared Saint David’s Day.
The Miracles of Saint David
The legends of Saint David’s miracles are spread far and wide, and no article about his jaw dropping feats would be complete without them. Saint David is said to have restored sight to a blind monk, brought back to life a child by splashing his face with tears, and brought water to baron land by striking his staff on the ground.
His most famous miracle occurred during a sermon to a large crowd in the village of Llanddewi Brefi. Followers were having difficulty hearing his voice. But then a white dove came and landed on the Saint’s shoulder, and just then, the ground rose up forming a hill from which he could project his preaching. The white dove is often seen alongside Saint David in stain glass windows of churches across Wales.
The Leek has been associated with Wales for centuries, but the origins of this association are also lost in history. One story suggests Saint David ordered his soldiers to wear a leek in their helmets when battling the Saxon Invaders from England.
St David’s Day Greeting Cards.
The people of Wales are proud of their Welsh language, and it’s thriving – around 19% of the Welsh population speak Welsh alongside English. Wales is bilingual!
St Andrew- Patron Saint of Scotland
Details of all the Saints in this blog are patchy at best, but non more so than Saint Andrew, patron saint of Scotland.
Andrew and his brother Simon Peter were two of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. He was born around 6 AD in Galliee, now in Israel, and they were fishermen. Andrew was initially a follower of John the Baptist (a prominent figure in Christianity and Islam, revered as a saint and a prophet). When he met Jesus, he instantly recognised him as the messiah
Various legends tell of how Andrew came to be associated with Scotland. In one account set in the 9th century, King Angus vowed to make Andrew the Saint of Scotland if he was victorious in an upcoming battle of Athelstaneford against the English. On the day of the battle, clouds formed a large X shape in the sky, the sign of Saint Andrew. Despite having the smaller army, King Angus was victorious.
Other parts of Scottish mythology say that the Scots are descendants of a population called the Scythians who lived on the Black Sea.
And yet another fable purports that relics of St Andrew were brought to Fife by a Greek monk, St Regulus. In a vision, St Regulus was instructed to take the relics (a tooth, a kneecap, some finger bones and arm bones) and set up a church wherever he was shipwrecked. Thus the area known today as St Andrews (famous for it’s golf courses) became a site of pilgrimage.
Andrew was officially declared the Patron Saint of Scotland in the year 1320, following the Declaration of Arbroath, confirming Scotland’s independence from England.
The Saltaire – St Andrew’s Cross.
St Andrew was crucified by the Romans in 60 AD on an X-shaped cross. The X-cross thus became closely associated with St Andrew. A white saltire (which means a diagonal cross with bars of equal length) on a blue background became the flag of Scotland in the early 16th century, making it one of the oldest flags in history. The shade of blue varied over the years, and it wasn’t until 2003 that the Scottish Parliament standardised the shade of blue – the official colour is now Pantone 300.
Although St Andrew never set foot on Scottish soil, many Scots feel their culture shares many characteristics with him. He had a humble upbringing, and he was strong and generous, known for philanthropic ideals.
St Andrew’s Day is celebrated on 30th November. The celebration was actually made popular by wealthy Scottish ex-pats in the US as long ago as 1729, who set up St Andrew’s Societies to help those less fortunate. The celebrations picked in the homeland, and today St Andrew’s Day is a Bank Holiday in Scotland.