Saint George - His Life, Legend and Patronages
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Saint George - His Life, Legend and Patronages

Little is known about the life of Saint George and what little we do know about him seems to be shrouded in myth and legend, leading many to believe that Saint George is nothing more than the work of some ancient scribe's romantic imagination. However, George was indeed a real person and below is an account of what little is known about his life, that famous legend and his many dedications, honours and patronages.

Little is known about the life of Saint George and what little we do know about him seems to be shrouded in myth and legend, leading many to believe that Saint George is nothing more than the work of some ancient scribe's romantic imagination.

However, George was indeed a real person and below is an account of what little is known about his life, that famous legend and his many dedications, honours and patronages.

Georgius, to give him his rightful name, was born in Cappadocia in eastern Turkey during the middle of the second century AD, the son of Theobaste, his Turkish father who was an officer in the Roman army and known as Gerontius and Anastasius, his Palestinian mother who was known as Polychrona.

His parents were an affluent and noble Christian couple who brought Georgius up to have strong Christian values.

 

             Saint George fighting the dragon, by Raphael. 

At the age of fourteen Georgius' father died, so his mother returned with Georgius to her native Lydda in Palestine. 

At the age of seventeen Georgius joined the Roman Army, eventually working his way up to the rank of tribune or officer. 

Georgius was an officer and imperial guard under the direction of the Roman Emperor Diocletian ( AD 245 - 313) a former good friend of Georgius’ father and the infamous instigator of the Diocletianic Persecutions, the most severe Christian persecutions the Roman Empire ever carried out. 

 In February AD 303, Diocletian ordered the church at Nicodemia - modern day Izmit in Turkey - to be razed to the ground, it’s scriptures to be burned and it's holy treasures to be seized.

Georgius was stationed in Nicodemia at this time and wholeheartedly objected to these practices.

Georgius wouldn't denounce his faith, indulge in the destruction of the church or in the desecration of it's artefacts, despite bribes of money and land from Diocletian.

Georgius stayed true to his faith resulting in Diocletian taking him prisoner, where upon he suffered several weeks of torture, before eventually being dragged through the streets of Nicodemia and subsquently beheaded.

Georgius died a Christian martyr on the twentythird of April AD 303, the day which is now known as Saint George's Day. 

 Saint George's Cathedral, Novi Sad, Serbia.  

Georgius of Lydda, Saint George’s official title, was canonised by Pope Gelasius in AD 494, making Saint George a Catholic saint.

Since then Saint George has been honoured with the title of the Patron Saint of many causes, cities and countries, not just by the Roman Catholic church, but the Anglican, the Lutheran, the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox churches too.

Today his feast day is celebrated as a national holiday in Serbia and Palestine, a regional holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada and a day of parades and parties in the U.S.A, to celebrate National Scouts Day.

Saint George is the Patron Saint of the countries of  Bulgaria, England and Ethiopia, the regions of Bavaria in Germany and Catalonia in Spain, the islands of Gozo in Malta and Sicily in Italy and the cities of Beirut in Lebanon, Genoa and Milan in Italy and Moscow in Russia.  

Saint George’s Day is very much celebrated in all of these countries, although the English do little in the way of remembering him other than flying the George Cross - the English flag - or wearing a red rose about their person. 

Saint George is also the patron saint of farmers and farm workers, butchers, equestrians, horses, saddlemakers, sheep, soldiers, skin conditions and boy scouts.He is also the patron saint of the Corinthians football club, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. 

Places around the world named in reverance of Saint George include the country of Georgia, the capital of the Caribbean island of Grenada, parishes on the islands of Antigua, Bermuda and Trinidad + Tobago, Saint George's Cay in Belize, a town in New Brunswick, Canada, towns in Florida,South Carolina and Utah in the USA, a town in Queensland, Australia, Porto San Giorgio in Italy and a suburb of the city of Bristol in England. 

Saint George has hundreds of churches and at least twenty cathedrals dedicated to him across the world, the most famous of which is the San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy. His name has also been dedicated to a convent and a basilica in Prague in the Czech Republic, a basilica on the island of Gozo,Malta, a castle in Lisbon in Portugal,a college and chapel in Windsor Castle, England and monasteries in Syria, Russia and Palestine. 

Although Georgius was executed in Turkey his buriel took place in his mother's hometown of Lydda in Palestine - modern day Lod in Israel - where his tomb is housed in the Church of Saint George. The church is housed in the ruins of a former Byzantine basilica which today makes up part of the el Khidr mosque complex.  

      

           Saint George slaying the dragon, Zagreb, Croatia. 

So, how did a former Roman officer of Turkish / Arab parentage, who it is believed never even visited Europe let alone Britain, come to be the Patron Saint of England ? 

In June 1098 on the eve of the Battle of Antioch – modern day Antakya in Turkey – Saint George appeared in a vision to the soldiers of the crusading Norman army. The following day the Norman army was victorious in battle and the Norman soldiers came to believe that Saint George was the protector of the English.

Saint George also appeared in a vision before King Richard I -  Richard the Lionheart - on the eve of his major battle with the Saracens at the Battle of Arsuf - near modern day Tel Aviv in Israel - during the third crusade of 1191. As with the Norman soldiers a century before, King Richard's army was also victorious in their battle.

Saint George was seen by King Richard wearing a breastplate emblazoned with a red cross. From that day King Richard adopted the red cross as the symbol of England and ordained that all English soldiers should be seen wearing the red cross upon their breastplates when going into battle.

The red cross however did not become the flag of England until 1277.

In 1222 the Ecclesiastical Council of Oxford officially named the day of Georgius’ death – the 23rd of April -  as Saint Georges Day.

Saint George replaced both St Edmund the Martyr and Edward the Confessor as the Patron Saint of England in 1348. Also in the same year the English King Edward III, made Saint George the protector of the royal family and named both the chapel at Windsor Castle and the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the nation’s highest order of chivalry, in his honour.

From 1415 Saint George’s Day was celebrated by way of feasts and peagantry, although this was shortlived once King Henry VIII founded the Church of England in 1534, which culminated in all Catholic saints falling from favour. 

In 1940 the English King George VI, inaugurated the George Cross Medal, the nation’s highest civil decoration, awarded to civilians during the second World War for acts of courage, heroism and valour, in rememberance of Saint George.

                                   

Saint George portrayed in a stained glass window in a church in Derbyshire, England. 

So, how did George become recognised as a chivalrous knight and dragon slayer?

The story of Saint George and the Dragon actually comes from a story called the Golden Legend written by thirteenth century Italian archbishop and chronicler Jacobus de Voragine in 1260.

His story tells of a menacing dragon who terrorised the Libyan town of Silene, by eating all it’s livestock.

In order to appease the rampant reptile the townsfolk offered the beast their princess, Cleolinda.

At the moment that the shreiking princess was being offered to the dragon, Georgius rode into town upon a white charger, where he promptly slayed the dragon with his ascalon – lance – thus saving both the princess - who was so thankful to Georgius she later married him - and the town. 

As a thankyou to Georgius for his heroic act, the entire town of Silene promptly converted to Christianity.

No one is really sure whether Voragine’s story is the work of his imagination or if it was based on historical fact that only he was privy to. 

It is not above the realms of possibility for Georgius to have been stationed in Libya, as history tells us that Emperor Diocletian’s army was in Libya during the year AD 300, three years before Georgius' death.

If the story be true, the dragon that Voragine refers to could well have been a crocodile, a much more credible beast for that day and age, but if the story be made up, it could just be the work of a highly imaginative storyteller, especially as Voragine’s tale bears an uncanny likeness to the Greek legend of Perseus and Andromeda, making this another possibility as to where the legend of Saint George likely originated.

The tomb of Saint George in Lydda, Palestine - Lod, Israel. 

Saint George has many churches named in his honour and has been depicted in many works of art both in paintings and as statues. Wikipedia has a large picture gallery of churches dedicated to him and a large gallery of Saint George artwork and iconography. You can find these pages by visiting -  

Structured_gallery_of_churches_dedicated_to_Saint_George 

 Saint_George_structured_art_gallery 

All images courtesy of wikimedia commons.                                           

                                    

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Comments (2)

Very interesting lesson in history, article very nicely composed, too.  Awesome images.  Thanks

Ranked #9 in History

Well written account of this piece of history and the origins of St, George.

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