Who Was Saint George?

He may be the patron saint of England, but he wasn't English and didn’t slay any dragons. So, just who was Saint George?

St. George

WHAT DO WE KNOW?

Not much is known about Saint George's early life, or even if he existed at all, and what is known has been argued for centuries.

If he did exist, it is believed that he was probably born around 280 CE in Lydda, Syria Palaestina, an area which is now in modern-day Israel and that he was probably born to noble birth. He became a solider, and ultimately an officer, in the Roman army under Emperor Diocletian.

When the emperor ordered the systematic persecution of Christians George refused to take part, which resulted in his torture and subsequent death on 23rd April 303 CE.

Depiction of St. George by Carlo Crivelli, 1472.

Depiction of St. George by Carlo Crivelli, 1472.

HIS LEGACY

After his death, George rapidly became celebrated, particularly in the Near East and throughout Christian countries, as an example of bravery in defence of the poor and the Christian faith. He received his sainthood in 494 CE, canonized by Pope Gelasius I.

Not only is St. George now the patron saint of England, he also represents Portugal, Cyprus, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republic of Macedonia - with the red-on-white St. George's cross a popular icon.

THE MYTH

The myth of St. George became popularised around the time of the Crusades who brought back tales of a dragon-slaying Christian who saved a princess and her village from the flesh eating monster.

Gyorgy (St. George) and the dragon, Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia.

Gyorgy (St. George) and the dragon, Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia.

The story goes that the local villagers offered up sheep everyday to appease the monster, but when that failed they tried feeding it their children, chosen by lottery. Until, on one occasion, it happened that the lot fell on the king's daughter.

Distraught with grief, the King told the people they could have all his gold and silver and half of his kingdom if his daughter was spared. His people refused and the daughter was sent out to the lake, decked out as a bride, to be fed to the dragon.

By chance, George rode past the lake. Noticing him, the dragon charged for George, who fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross and charged on horseback delivering a grievous wound. With the dragon harnessed, George rode the princess back to the village, subsequently telling the villagers that he would only kill the dragon if they all became Christians. Unwilling to subject themselves back to the terror of the dragon, the king and his people agreed to convert to Christianity and George slew the dragon.

On the site where the dragon died, the king built a church to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. George, and from its altar a spring arose whose waters cured all disease.