The countries that make up the British Isles and Ireland have four unique patron saints. My “List Patron Saints of Britain and Ireland” post will discuss these saints and their origins and also when to celebrate their feast day. These saints as you may or may not know are George, Andrew, David and Patrick and they are the patron saints of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland respectively.
Even though these countries do observe a national day, or feast day, for each of these saints they are not recognized as a holiday.
Saint George’s Day – April 23rd
Saint Andrew’s Day – November 30th
Saint David’s Day – March 1st
Saint Patrick’s Day – March 17th
What Is A Patron Saint?
Patron saints have been adopted since the first public churches were built during the Roman Empire. These churches were built over the graves of these martyrs, and then subsequently the name of the church was given their names.
A martyr acts as an intercessor for the Christians who worship in the church. The holy lives of these saints show us the saving power of Christ, and without the Lord could not have risen above their fallen nature. And that is why we can pray to these somewhat mere men, rather than Christ directly.
The reasons for a church bearing a saints name maybe because:
- He may have preached there,
- He had died there,
- Some or even all of his relics were transferred there.
The patron saints of England and Scotland, George and Andrew, were martyred for their faith. However, Saint David and Patrick of Wales and Ireland both died of natural causes.
The only saint that was born in the country that he is patron of is Saint David. He was born in South West Wales, while George was a Roman, Andrew was a Jew, and Patrick was actually born in England to Roman parents.
Lets look at each of these saints in turn!
Saint George – Patron Saint of England
There is some dispute as to the birthplace of Saint George. However, there is general agreement that it was probable in the region that was known as Cappadocia, which is in modern Turkey. He is said to have been born in 280AD.
He was described as a tall and fair handsome man by sources. When he was 17 years old he joined the Roman Army. George soon became an elected official within the army and was in charge of 1,000 men. This position he held was called a Tribune.
He however had converted to the Christian faith, which was forbidden by the Romans. The Emperor Diocletian persecuted the church with the hope of reviving the pagan religion. George rebelled against the Emperor and protected the Christians. He was subsequently tortured and beheaded on April 23rd 303.
Due to his bravery and protecting Christians he was eventually recognized as a saint in 900AD. Accounts also show that he performed miracles. His emblem comprises a red cross over a white background, which is the English flag we all know of today.
Even the Crusaders and Richard the Lionheart would wear a red cross on their white tunics to symbolize chivalry and bravery. They had brought this emblem of Saint George to Britain sometime in the 12th Century. Two hundred years after that he was recognized as the Patron Saint of England.
The Story of the Dragon
If you are familiar with Saint George then you may have heard the story about how he slayed a dragon. This story is said to represent good against evil. However, even though it is said to be a story there is a belief that a dragon was slayed on Dragon Hill in Uffington, Berkshire. It is also said that the grass does not grow on the spot where the dragon died.
Saint Andrew – Patron Saint of Scotland
Saint Andrew was born in the early 1st Century and, like his brother Peter, was one of Jesus’s twelve disciples. He was originally from the fishing village of Bethsaida on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Both Andrew and Peter were fishermen.
Later he would become the leader of a church but was crucified in Patras in Greece towards the end of the 1st Century. He chose to be crucified on a cross that was in the shape of an X, rather than the traditional T shape that his master Jesus died on. This X crucifix is called “The Saltire“. Constantine the Great would later take his remains to capital city of Rome, Constantinople.
Legend says that 300 years after Andrew’s death either an Irish or Greek monk took these remains ”to the ends of the earth“. The monk, St Rule, did so under the instruction of an angel. He took a number of Andrew’s fragments, but was shipwrecked on the east coast of Scotland during his journey. The place where he was shipwrecked is now called St Andrews.
However, there is another legend that persists to the origin of this settlement. It is said that a bishop brought over the relics of St Andrew in 733 and housed them in the chapel there.
The Picts and the Scots in the year 832AD went to war against the Angles. The leader of this army, Oengus, vowed that if they were victorious then Saint Andrew would become the Patron Saint of Scotland. During the morning of the battle white clouds were said to have made an X shape against the blue sky. The Picts and Scots were subsequently victorious.
Saint David – Patron Saint of Wales
Saint David was born in South West Wales in Britain, unlike the Patron Saints of England and Scotland. His life though was not recorded until 500 years after his death. So it cannot be said accurately what happened during his life. (Although there are even some disputes or disagreements with regard to Saint George and Andrew anyway).
On David’s father’s side he is said to have links with a Welsh prince, whilst his mother may have been a niece of the famous King Arthur. He was born sometime in the late 5th or early 6th Century.
His education was within a monastery and as a result of this upbringing he became a missionary and would travel throughout Wales, England and a region of France known as Brittany. On his travels he converted the pagan Celts that he met to Christianity.
He apparently lived to be 100 years old and died on March 1st 589. He was buried in his monastery in South West Wales. This is now the site of the impressive St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. March 1st is thus celebrated by the Welsh as St David’s Day.
Saint Patrick – Patron Saint of Ireland
Saint Patrick was born in Britain to Roman parents, although his date of birth is not known. It is known that the year was 385AD. His father and grandfather were both religious. His father was a deacon, while his grandfather was a priest.
He was brought over to Ireland by Irish raiders when he was only 16 years old. He worked as a shepherd in County Antrim, but his life was very hard as he had to endure six years of this slavery. After this time he managed to escape and return home to Britain.
Despite this harsh life he learned the Celtic language and also the Celtic religion from his master who himself was a druid. This education helped him later for his missionary work among the Celtic people when he came back to Ireland.
The reason for his return was because he imagined them calling for him to come back and walk among them. This is described in a surviving letter of Patrick’s.
His date of death was March 17th 461AD. Two hundred years after his death he was recognized as the Patron Saint of Ireland.
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