Saint George, The Dragon Slayer: The Legend Behind the Hero
St. George is perhaps one of Christianity’s most famous saints, and is best-known as the patron saint of England. Apart from this well-known fact, St. George is also the patron saint of a number of other countries, including Portugal, Georgia, Lithuania, and Greece. The most popular tale regarding this saint is the one in which he slays a dragon. Thus, St. George is most commonly depicted as a knight mounted on a horse and in the process of spearing a dragon. This image has inspired many artists over the years, and has been portrayed on various coats of arms.
St. George’s Early Life
St. George is believed to have lived during the latter part of the 3rd century AD and served as a soldier in the Roman army. Most sources agree that this saint was born in Cappadocia, an area which is located in modern day Turkey. The parents of St. George are said to have been Christians, and he inherited this faith from them. It has been claimed that after the death of St. George’s father, his mother returned to her hometown in Palestine, taking the saint with her. St. George then joined the Roman army, and eventually obtained the rank of Tribune.
Portrait of St. George by Hans von Kulmbach, circa 1510. ( Public Domain )
St. George’s Protest
The persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century AD was objected to by St. George, who resigned from his military office as a sign of protest. When the emperor’s order against the Christians was torn up by St. George, Diocletian was furious. In an attempt to force St. George to renounce his Christian faith, he was imprisoned and tortured by the emperor’s men. The saint, however, refused to reject his faith. Seeing that their efforts were of no use, St. George’s jailers had him dragged through the streets of Diospolis (known also as Lydda) in Palestine and beheaded.
Saint George dragged through the streets of Diospolis, by Bernat Martorell, 15th century. ( Public Domain )
The story of St. George’s life would have been quite similar to that of his many contemporary martyrs, i.e. refusing to give up their Christian faith in the face of a persecuting pagan emperor, and paying for it with their lives, if it had not been for one particular tale.
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It was St. George’s combat with a dragon that set him apart from most of his fellow martyrs. The best known form of this legend is said to be found in the Legenda Aurea (translated as ‘Golden Legend’), which was written during the 13th century by Jacobus de Voragine, an Italian chronicler and archbishop of Genoa.
Combat with a Dragon
In the account of the Legenda Aurea , St. George is said to have passed by a city called Silene, which is in the province of Libya. Beside this city was a pond, and in this pond lived a “dragon which envenomed all the country”. The people of the city decided to feed the beast with two sheep each day so that it would not harm them. When the dragon’s appetite was not satiated, the people of the city began sacrificing human beings to it,
“Then was an ordinance made in the town that there should be taken the children and young people of them of the town by lot, and every each one as it fell, were he gentle or poor, should be delivered when the lot fell on him or her.”
Saint George and the Dragon by Gustave Moreau, 1889/1890. ( Public Domain )
One day, the lot fell on the king’s daughter, who was prepared to be offered to the dragon. It was during this time that St. George passed by the city, and saw the princess. When he enquired as to what going on, St. George was told about the dragon, and he decided to slay the beast. The battle with the dragon, as described by de Voragine, is as follows:
“Thus as they spake together 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. And after said to the maid: Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard. When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair.”
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St. George brought the dragon to Silene, converted the king and his people to the Christian faith, and then slayed the dragon.
St. George on Horseback, Meister des Döbelner Hochaltars, 1511/13, Hamburger Kunsthalle. ( Public Domain )
It has been said that St. George’s military prowess made him popular amongst the knights of Medieval Europe, especially following the crusades. During the First Crusade, for example, an apparition of St. George is said to have aided the crusaders during their successful siege of Antioch in 1098.
Another popular myth was that the English king Richard the Lionheart saw a vision of St. George during his siege of Acre, which lasted from 1189 to 1191. The king then rebuilt a church in honor of the saint in Lydda, and adopted his emblem (a red cross on a white background) as England’s arms. This myth, however, was disproved during the 1990s.
Top image: St George the dragon slayer (rudall30 / Adobe Stock)
By Wu Mingren
Campbell, J., 2015. St George's Day: When is it, who is England's patron saint – and why isn't it a bank holiday??. [Online]
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/st-georges-day-when-is-it-who-is-englands-patron-saint-and-why-isnt-it-a-bank-holiday-10187608.html
Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend [Online]
[Caxton, W. (trans.), 1483. Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend .]
Available at: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/goldenlegend/index.asp
Morris, M., 2009. Slaying Myths: St George and the Dragon. [Online]
Available at: http://www.historytoday.com/marc-morris/slaying-myths-st-george-and-dragon
The BBC, 2009. Saint George. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/saints/george_1.shtml
The Royal Mint Limited, 2016. St George the Dragon Slayer: the legend. [Online]
Available at: http://www.royalmint.com/discover/sovereigns/st-george-the-dragon-slayer
Thurston, H., 1909. St. George. [Online]
Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06453a.htm
Whether the story’s true or not, there’s a lot of metaphor in it, which makes it useful for religious teaching in whatever time. The dragon represents the devil or a demon which devours people’s souls, especially innocent young maidens. A righteous and fearless knight saves them and the town from wickedness and sin. It’s a very common theme, especially in Medieval times when it was popularised
Hi there Mr. Wu Mingren,
I only found out about six months ago that the Original King James Bible, was changed in 1885, by The American Bible Society; one of the subjects that changed, is the Word Dragon.
The word Dragon were used 35 times instances throughout The King James Bible. So in 1885, it went from Dragons to Serpents.
The funny part about this for me is that Churches maintain; we live by faith, not by sight, so this would be a wild guess on my part but, I think those early Christian's were living by Sight and not by faith.
The thing is if the American Bible Society, had paid attention to those dragon's, that were being found (including places in Africa and Brazil alive), then they should have noticed the many bones being unearthed at that time by science I believe their names are Dinosauria? They were christened by that name through Sir Richard Owen.
Nice to know PEOPLE hasn't stopped naming thing's since Eden, a genetic trait inherited from Adam which means PEOPLE in Hebrew.
This means as well that Adam gave Dinosaurias original names in Hebrew.
The Bible 1884...
Behemoth originally found twice in Bible Enoch & Job, today is only found in The Book of Job chapter 40:15,
Cockitrice this one is found 5, times Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Dragon/Water Dragon the land Dragon is stated 26, times Old Testament. Water Dragon 1 time in Isaiah this Key word is unique because Crocodiles are mentioned first in the passage followed by Water Dragon's which means they weren't crocodiles.
Fiery Serpent 5 times in the Old Testament Isaiah, Jeremiah, and The Book of Number's.
Flying Serpent mentioned is twice Isaiah and The Book of Number's.
Leviathan originally made known in The Bible 6, times but, Enoch was thrown out so after that Leviathan is mentioned
5 times in The Bible. Oh right and Leviathan appears to be vastly different than the Water Dragons made known in Isaiah.
Did you know in Isaiah The Prophet stated that one day in Heaven a child will be able to play by the Den of a Cockitrice and not be harmed? Somehow, I don't think these guys were the nice veggie eaters scientist believe them to be.
Sir Richard Owen merely gave these particular name's and up grade.
That article was certainly interesting to read about St. George. Still I find it interesting regarding St. George is that if He was born in Turkey what was his Birth name of his Mother's People back in Palestine? I'm thinking that The Romans may have changed his name when He enlisted in The Roman Army.
Frankw, this makes this entire article, a little woo woo.
Indeed, the St. George myth has its origin in the stories of Perseus and the krakon, Mithras and the bull, etc. Like the biblical tales, most of these stories are derived from much earlier legends an stories.
If that's what you believe, then why do you bother to come here? Just to troll?