I think it’s technically cheating, but I am giving you letters S and T of the Blogging from A-Z challenge together today, and I am going to tell you all about St George.
St George is the patron saint of England and we celebrate his feast day today, 23rd April. His story, as with many stories of heroic derring-do, is shrouded in mystery and has its roots in some truth, some legend, some fairy story and some Christian teaching.
The story of St George goes something like this:
The people of a city were being terrorised by a dragon who lived in the local lake, and it demanded ever increasing sacrifices to satisfy its hunger. It began with demands for sheep and they fed it two each week to keep it quiet but they soon ran out of them, and it demanded children instead. The only way the people could do it was to draw lots for whose child was going to be sacrificed next.
It all went well enough until the King’s daughter was chosen to be the next sacrifice. The people all protested, but the King – though heartbroken – said that it must go ahead to be fair to everyone.
On the morning that the dragon was expected appear, the little princess was by the side of the lake terrified and crying as she waited for him. George happened to be passing by on his horse and asked her why she was so upset. She told him the story and how the people were beholden to this beast, and George reassured her by telling her he would help her. As they were talking, the dragon appeared. George fortified himself with the sign of the cross and struck out a the beast, wounding it badly. He shouted for the princess to throw him her girdle, which he placed around the dragon’s neck allowing him to lead it on the leash back to the city.
The people were initially terrified and all ran away, but George called out to them that he was in control of the dragon and if they would convert to Christianity and be baptised, he would slay the dragon for them.
The King led by example and was the first to be baptised and was quickly followed by the rest of the people. George fulfilled his promise and killed the dragon for them, having it taken away by four ox-carts to beyond the city walls. The King was so pleased that he built a church on the site where George killed the dragon and waters which bubbled up there had remarkable healing powers, curing all disease.
This is the story that was brought back by the Crusaders in the 12th Century and obviously, they had an agenda of their own with the retelling of the story (the “dragon” is an allegorical figure and “George” is the Crusaders).
There is some evidence to support another version of the story which is that George was a 3rd Century Roman soldier born in Lydda, Syria who was martyred because he refused to give up his Christian religion despite being ordered to by his commanding officer. His death was on 23rd April (according to the Julian calendar) and the 6th May (according to the Gregorian calendar). As St George is a saint in both Eastern and Western orthodoxy, both these dates are valid but, as we follow the Julian calendar here in England we celebrate his feast day today.
In the words of Henry V (according to Shakespeare, anyway – whose birthday is also celebrated on 23rd April by the way) “Cry God for Harry, England, and St George!”.