“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
St George‘s Day is celebrated in many countries other than England; Canada, Hungary, Jordan, Czech Republic, Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Georgia to name but a few.
It is particularly popular in Catalonia in Spain where giving a red rose to a loved one has been traditional since the Middle Ages, although the emphasis is more about the romance of the rose than the slaying of a dragon.
St George was first mentioned in England in the seventh century by the Venerable Bede, the famous monk and chronicler. The order of St George is the foremost order of knighthood in England and there are many churches named after this legendary slayer of dragons who has been England’s patron saint since the fourteenth century.
As we most of us know, St George was ace at killing dragons and rescuing fair maidens. But we may not know why he has a red rose for his emblem. I mean, something more fire resilient such as an aloe or other succulent would seem more suitable. Succulents by their very nature are fire resistant; their thick leaves are largely full of water which makes them slower to burn; to the extent that they are being used as a firebreak plant around houses in certain parts of Australia.
Except of course that there weren’t many succulents in Medieval England, which is when the rose seems to have first been connected to the saint.
Maybe the red rose was given to St George by the princess he rescued? St George was not English by birth; he was born in Turkey in the third century and was a soldier in the Roman army. He probably slew plenty of Rome’s enemies but whether he rescued a princess or high born lady from a ‘dragon of a foe’ is not documented. He was most likely martyred for his Christian faith, which may be where the dragon legend began.
Or perhaps the red rose as England’s national emblem links more to the English ‘Wars of the Roses’ (1455-1485) between the noble families of York and Lancaster as to who who had the better right to the crown of England. York had the white rose and Lancaster the red rose. The meaning of the layered red and white Tudor rose was that it symbolised the coming together of the two houses in the shape of Henry VII of Lancaster and Elizabeth of York, or more specifically in their son, Henry VIII and his children. So strictly speaking, England’s national emblem should be the red and white Tudor rose.
The rose is an ancient flower; fossil remains in Colorado date back to 35 million years ago. The family Rosaceae contains over 3000 species of tree, shrub and herbaceous plants, including apples and strawberries, so, as you would expect, covers most of the globe in its distribution. Everywhere except Antarctica in fact.
Roses, being pollen bearers, may cause an allergic reaction, as may the perfume, either to nose or skin. But hopefully, a celebratory red rose for St George’s Day, whilst scented, will not cause too many sneezes or skin itches.