Three lions, Englands flag and St George
Three lions on the shirt
Three lions are the enduring symbol of England.
They are personal to the English monarch and worn by sports teams with the permission of the Queen.
The heraldic lion is technically a leopard, and was first used as a symbol by the vikings (though their main symbol was a raven), then more regularly by the Norman kings. Richard I was the first king to use the three lions in their present format representing his position as king of England, Duke of Normandy and Duke of Aquitaine. This was in the thirteenth century.
During the conflicts with France, with English kings trying to claim the French throne, they were quartered with the French Fleur des lys in a variety of formats.
The English flag, the cross of St George
The origin of the St George’s cross flag is more obscure. During the crusades christians adopted the cross as their symbol, especially in red and white, which is also evident on the flags of Denmark and Switzerland, and it is believed that an arrangement was made with the French for the English to display a white cross to distinguish them from the French who displayed a red cross.
The red cross was displayed by Simon de Montfords rebels against King Henry III, who reversed the colours of the flag for his own army. This was also in the thirteenth century.
In 1415 Henry V dedicated his Agincourt campaign to St George and following the English victory St George was recognised as England’s special (and patron) saint.
There is also a story, almost certainly untrue, that English merchant ships flew the flag of Genoa in the Meditarranian as part of an agreement with Genoa to protect English shipping. The flag remains the flag of the Italian city to this day, and represents their patron Saint, St George.
St George is patron Saint of many countries, the best known being Ethiopia and Georgia. In Medieval Georgia the red cross was used in a variety of formats and was known as the “Jerusalem cross”. The current flag of a red cross on a white background with four smaller crosses in the corners was adopted in that format more recently when Georgia was liberated from the Soviet Union.
It is also widely believed that Georgia was named after its patron Saint. In fact the origins of the name are disputed, and it is more likely that it is derived from a Persian word meaning the place of wolves.
St George is a patron Saint of many countries, causes and occupations (especially in the military) and is in the unique position among Christian saints of also being venerated in the Muslim world.
He was a Roman soldier, the son of a Greek father and Palestinian mother, raised in Palestine and martyred for refusing to renounce Christianity! Beyond that we know very little about him.
As for slaying a dragon. That story didn’t emerge until well over one thousand years after his death!