Feast Day : April 23
Patronage: Boy Scouts; cavalry; farmers; soldiers; Aragón; England; Genoa; Germany; Portugal; Spain; Venice
St. George is considered to be one of the most illustrious martyrs in the Church, though most of what is known about him in various “Acts of St. George” is probably more legend than fact. However, George was an historical figure. According to an account by Metaphrastes, he was born in Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) to a noble Christian family; his mother was Palestinian. After his father died, he went to live in Palestine with his mother. George became a soldier and was promoted to high rank by Emperor Diocletian. But when Diocletian began persecuting Christians, George went to him and protested. He was jailed and tortured at or near Lydda, also known as Diospolis. On the following day (April 23, probably the year 303), he was paraded through the streets and then beheaded. He was buried at Lydda. George immediately became an important martyr in the churches of both East and West, and altars and churches were built in his honor. The early pilgrims of the sixth to eighth centuries knew of Lydda as the seat of his veneration. Some Acts of St. George were in existence by the end of the fifth century. During the Middle Ages, George became a patron of arms and chivalry in England, and the best-known image of George, as a dragon-slaying knight, was born. By the 11th century, his Acts had been translated into Anglo-Saxon, and churches were dedicated to him. He was invoked as a champion of the Crusades. The arms of St. George, a red cross on a white background, were carried into battle, and by the 14th century were used as an insignia on the uniforms of English soldiers and sailors. The red cross was incorporated into the Union Jack. In 1347, King Edward III founded the chivalric Order of the Garter, of which George was the principal patron. Edmund Spenser wrote of George in his Faerie Queen as the “Red Cross Knight.” The Golden Legend, translated into English by William Caxton, tells of St. George and the dragon, a story that probably dates to the 12th century. A monstrous dragon lived in the swamp near Silena, Lybia, and terrorized the countryside by bringing pestilence with its breath. To placate it, the townsfolk fed it two sheep every day. The dragon grew weary of sheep and started demanding human victims. Lots were drawn and no substitutes were allowed. One day the king’s little daughter was marked as the next sacrifice. She was taken to the swamp. George came by, and when the dragon appeared he made the sign of the cross and stabbed it with his lance. He asked the maiden for her girdle and put it around the beast’s neck. They led the dragon back to town. George exhorted the people to be baptized and have no fear; then he cut off the dragon’s head. All the people were converted. George declined the king’s offer of half his kingdom, saying he must ride on. He told the king to take care of the churches, honor the clergy and have pity on the poor. Numerous religious and secular orders of St. George have existed throughout Europe and in Russia and England (despite the fact that the saint’s cult was suppressed in Protestant England). As a Holy Helper, he was invoked for the protection of domestic animals during the plague. In art, George is most often depicted as a knight on a horse lancing a dragon, the medieval symbol of evil.