George: the Man
So what does GoneDigging actually know about St George? We know chavs hang his flag out their bedroom window once every two years. And there’s that story in which he killed a dragon. But what else did he do? And who was he? Let’s take a little look-see…
Most of us are aware that he’s England’s patron saint, typically identified by English ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry. And yet actually, he wasn’t English at all. In fact, he was probably born in the third century to Christian parents in Cappadocia, in an area that’s now in Turkey. However, when his dad died, it’s thought his mum moved them back to her native Palestine. Thereafter, the story goes that George became a soldier in the Roman army – rising to the rank of Tribune.
After that, though, things started going a bit pear shaped for our George. The Emperor at the time, Diocletian, wasn’t a massive fan of Christians and began a campaign persecuting them. It’s said that around 303 AD, George began to voice his objections at the victimisation and actually quit his military post in protest.
With hindsight, George’s decision to tear up Diocletian’s order against the Christians wasn’t his brightest moment. The Emperor did his nut, before imprisoning and torturing George. And yet even under this torture, Georgey Boy refused to denounce his faith and was eventually dragged through the streets of Diospolis – modern-day Lydda – in Palestine and beheaded.
It’s said that Diocletian’s wife then converted to Christianity, having been so inspired by George’s resilience. Proving what a thoroughly nice bloke he was, the Emperor promptly executed her as well. What an old charmer.
Anyway, what else do we know about him?
George and the Dragon
The whole issue of a dragon slaying only gained notoriety in 1483 when a book called ‘The Golden Legend’ by Caxton went into mass circulation. It was actually a translation of a book by Jacques de Voragine – a French bishop – which detailed all the fantastical tales of saints’ lives.
According to ‘The Golden Legend’, George rocked up to the Libyan city of Silene, where he learnt that the townspeople were having to feed a dragon two sheep a day to prevent it attacking them. When the sheep stopped cutting the mustard, it became one sheep and one human – the latter of which was chosen by lots.
This carried on until the king’s daughter was selected. The king tried to backtrack, but the townsfolk weren’t having any of it and insisted she be delivered to the dragon as many of their kids had been. After she was taken to where the dragon was last seen, George happened to pass by and asked what was happening. The king’s daughter filled him in, but begged him to leave before the dragon turned up and killed him too.
George, being the stand-up guy he was, was having none of it, “Fair daughter, doubt ye no thing hereof for I shall help thee in the name of Jesu [sic] Christ.” It was at about this point that the dragon appeared, “…and came running to them, and S. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground.”
The princess led the defeated dragon into the city, much to the alarm of the locals, who were only calmed when George proclaimed he’d slay the dragon if the townsfolk agreed to be baptised. The king went first, followed by his people, after which George killed the dragon. The beast’s body was then dragged back out of the city and dumped in a field.
If stories of George killing a dragon seem a tad far-fetched, then his story of martyrdom is right up there, too. Apparently he was tortured in a number of brutal ways, including being forced to swallow poison, being crushed between two spiked wheels and boiled in a cauldron of molten lead. Miraculously, none of these methods killed him and during the night, Christ himself healed his wounds.
Later, George was told he’d be spared if he offered a sacrifice to the Roman gods. The people gathered, expectant, but instead witnessed George pray to his Christian God. The philistine! The heathen! But within seconds fire came down from heaven, an earthquake shook the ground, temples were destroyed and all the priests and idols met their maker. Sadly for poor old George, it was God’s will that he should die for his religion… and off came his head!
George and England
The earliest reference to St George in Britain comes from an account by St Adamnan, the seventh-century Abbot of Iona. Thereafter, George’s reputation grew among returning crusaders, who apparently saw him appear to lead them into battle – a feat that was recorded in stone over the church’s door in Fordington, Dorset. And in 1222, the Council of Oxford named 23rd April as St George’s Day.
Much later – from around the 14th century – St George became regarded as a special protector of England, with the country’s soldiers started wearing his sign on their chest and back. Around 100 years later, in 1415, Henry V’s speech at the Battle of Agincourt invoked George as England’s patron saint, with many saying they saw George fighting on the side of the English.
George and the Rest of the World
If you thought St George was only the patron saint of England, think again. He’s also the patron saint of Georgia, Germany, Lithuania, Greece and Portugal, as well as many towns and cities, including Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice. Oh yeah, and he’s also the patron saint of loads of diseases and professions, including leprosy, herpes and syphilis, and soldiers, farmers and shepherds, respectively.