Saint George and the Dragon
St. George, Patron Saint of England, is probably the best known of the Christian Saints. He was also the Patron Saint of several other countries, such as Portugal, Georgia, Lithuania and Greece.
He is at the heart of an extremely famous story: the legend of St. George against the Dragon. It is his ultimate achievement of glory. This story has inspired a great amount of artists throughout different eras.
But it is not his only achievement! In this article, we will first look at who St. George was, and then focus on his fight against the Dragon. Let's get started!
1. Who was Saint George?
According to some accounts, St. George was a contemporary of the end of the third century AD.
He was born in Cappadocia, a region in present-day Turkey. He is said to have inherited the Christian faith from his parents.
According to some people, when St. George's father died, his mother returned to her birthplace in Palestine, accompanied by little George. The boy then joined the Roman army and eventually achieved the rank of Tribune.
B. Saint-Georges, the objector
Georges de Lydda, who later became St. George, was a soldier in the Roman army. He rose to the rank of Tribune.
He protested vigorously against the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century. Indeed, in one month, 22 thousand of them were martyred. Many frightened Christians renounced their faith.
Observing all this, George left his military duties, to signify his protest. He threw away his knightly vestments and sold everything he owned. He gave the money back to the poor.
When George refused the order to attack the Christians, the emperor became terribly angry.
C. St. George, the Christian Martyr
Diocletian then ordered his men to imprison and torture with iron bars the refractory George, in order to make him abandon his Christianity.
Having a hard head and a strong faith, George did not give up: he was a Christian! On the night of the same day when he was tortured, the Lord revealed Himself to him and eased his suffering.
George resisted several attempts to poison him, so much so that it impressed the sorcerer who was behind it. He even asked George to make him a Christian.
George was placed on a spreading wheel, but he came out intact. It was the machine that was broken! He was then put into a cauldron filled with molten lead. But it was quite comfortable for him. A good bath, in short.
George led the emperor to believe that he was going to convert to the pagan deities. But in the public square, at the fateful moment, he implored the Christian Lord. Then fire struck the temples, priests and pagan idols. The earth opened up and absorbed the remains.
The angry emperor had the recalcitrant George beheaded. But soon afterwards, the emperor and his servants were killed by the wrath of heaven.
But not so quickly. Let's go back a few years and take a closer look at his greatest act of bravery: his fight against the dragon.
The Martyrdom Of Saint George Painting by Peter Paul Rubens (1615)
2. St. George against the Dragon
If there is one fact that set St. George apart from his brothers in arms, it is his confrontation with the Dragon.
The most famous version of this mythology lies in the Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend). It was written by the Italian writer and architect from Genoa, Jacobus da Varagine.
A. The Context
In this tale of the Golden Legend, St. George, having learned of the misfortunes that befell the inhabitants of Silenus (a town located in a Libyan province), would have gone there.
In fact, a pond extended close to this city. Inside the pond was a terrifying dragon, which terrorized the whole region. Every time he approached the city, he would poison people with his venom.
In order to prevent this monstrous creature from attacking them, the inhabitants gave him enough to fill his belly: 2 beautiful sheep a day!
But, one day, there were no more sheep… and that was the tragedy! They had to sacrifice human beings, by drawing lots. And, in the end, the only daughter of the king… Despite the king's immense sadness and reluctance, this time it was his daughter who was to be given as ransom to calm the monster.
The king blessed his daughter and put her in her wedding dress before handing her over to the dragon.
Saint George and the Dragon, Darko Topalski
B. The fight
St. George arrived on the scene by chance. When he saw the young lady, he asked her what she was doing there. She told him to go away, at the risk of perishing too. He replied that, in the name of Jesus Christ, he was going to save her.
This is the battle described by da Varagine:
“As they were talking together, the Dragon appeared and ran towards them… St. George was on his white horse. He took out his sword and drew the sign of the cross towards it. He rode with force against the dragon coming towards him, and struck it with his spear. He wounded him badly and threw him to the ground. And after that he said to the maid Give me your belt, tie it around the neck of the dragon and don't be afraid. When she had done this, the dragon followed her like a gentle and debonair beast.”
C. The conversion of the king and his people to Christianity
St. George then lugged the Dragon to Silenus. But before executing the Dragon, he asked the king and his people to convert to Christianity.
They were baptized (a total of 15,000 men. The number of women and children is not indicated). In addition, a church was built in honor of Our Lady and St. George, at the place where the dragon was killed. A fountain of living water still flows from this church today, healing the sick.
By the way, you could also be interested by our article about the dragons in the Bible!
The king even offered St. George as much money as he wanted. But he didn't accept the offer. Instead, he wanted the money to be given to the poor, in the name of God's love.
He made four requests to the king:
- That he takes charge of maintaining the churches,
- that he honors the priests,
- that he listens to them carefully,
- that he has mercy on those most in need.
And so St. George cut off the dragon's head. To extract the body from the city, it took four oxcarts!
3. The myth throughout history
St. George's military exploits made him a very famous knight in medieval Europe, especially after the Crusades. For example, during the First Crusade, an apparition of St. George is said to have helped the Crusaders during their triumphant siege of Antioch in 1098.
Another legend tells that the famous English king Richard the Lionheart had a vision of St. George during his siege of Acre (from 1189 to 1191). The king then rebuilt a church in honor of St. George in Lydda. He also adopted his symbol (a red cross on a white background) for England.
Initially limited to the courtly setting of chivalric romance, the legend was popularized in the 13th century and became a favorite literary and pictorial subject in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
It has become an integral part of the Christian traditions relating to St. George, both in the Eastern and Western traditions.
4. Artistic representations
Many iconography of the famous story of St. George and the Dragon have been made throughout history. Different civilizations have devoted themselves to it. Here is an example for each of them (knowing that countless others have been made).
A. Medieval Georgia
B. Byzantine Empire
C. Medieval Greece
D. Western Europe Medieval
E. Medieval Russia
F. European Renaissance
5. Chivalry is never over!
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