Previous Saint This month Next Saint
[Today's previous saint] [back to Calendar] [Today's next saint]

[Celebrated this year by the Orthodox on 6th May]

Died c. 303. Many legends have gathered around the name of Saint George, and there are differing accounts of his origin. There is evidence that George was, indeed, a martyr who suffered at Diospolis (Lydda, Ludd) in Palestine before the time of Constantine, probably under Diocletian. He was born of Christian parents in Cappadocia, where his father was a martyr. Later he himself took refuge in Palestine, where he became a Roman soldier and displayed courage. He is said to have been raised to the rank of military tribune of the imperial guards. On his mother's death he inherited a fortune and attached himself to the court of the Emperor Diocletian in the hope of finding advancement.

Once when the emperor was present, heathen priests were consulting the entrails of animals to foretell the future. Those Christians among the guards made the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads. The emperor was extremely angry and ordered them flogged and dismissed. He then sent out an edict ordering the Christian clergy to make sacrifice to the pagan gods.

On the outbreak of persecution, George declared himself a Christian and distributed his money to the poor. When the decree which preceded the persecution was published against the churches in Nicomedia, a certain man, Eusebius tells us in his History, of no mean origin, but highly esteemed for his temporal dignities, stimulated by a divine zeal, and excited by an ardent faith, took it as it was openly placed and posted up for public inspection, and tore it to shreds as a most profane and wicked act. This man who showed such courage is believed to have been Saint George, and such a bold and defiant action well suits what we know of his character.

As a result, he was subjected to nameless tortures over a period of seven years. He was tied to a revolving wheel of blades and swords, thrown into a pit of quicklime, made to run in red-hot shoes, scourged with thongs of hide, beaten with sledge-hammers, and cast over a precipice; his limbs were broken and exposed to flame, and he suffered many other torments.

One of the most familiar elements of his life concerns his fight with the dragon. It is said that George was riding through the province of Lybia (Libya?), and came upon a city named Sylene. Near the city was a marsh in which a dragon lived. The people had attempted to kill it but were poisoned by the creature's foetid breath.

To placate the dragon, they offered it two sheep each day, but when they began to exhaust their supply of sheep, they were forced to substitute a human each day instead, using a lottery to determine who would be sacrificed. At the time of George's arrival, the lot had just fallen to the king's daughter. No one volunteered to take her place, so she was dressed in bridal finery and sent to meet the dragon.

Riding in upon this scene, George attacked the dragon and speared it with his lance. He then fastened the princess's girdle around its neck, and the girl led the dragon into the city. The people were frightened and started to run away, but George told them not to be afraid--that if the whole city would believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized, he would slay the dragon.

The king and the people agreed, and more than 15,000 were baptized. George killed the dragon, and it was carried away on four ox carts. He accepted no reward for this service, but he asked the king to build churches, honour priests, and to maintain compassion for the poor.

The above account is from a much later date than George himself. Words, however, attributed to him are characteristic of his faith and courage, and may well have been upon his lips as he faced his actual torture, such as: Christ, my Captain, my Lord, I have no strength but what You give me. Help me this day, and the glory shall be Yours for ever and ever.

He preached the Gospel and baptized many into the Christian faith. Orthodox call him the great martyr. His name and influence also spread far into the West under the influence of the Crusaders; however, devotion to him there predates the Crusades. Since the 5th century many churches could be found in the West bearing his name. It was in England, however, that his fame became most popular.

It is uncertain why he is the patron saint of England, though his cultus travelled to the British Isles before the Norman Conquest (1066).

In the Western Church the legends that grew up around his name were not so readily accepted, and Pope Gelasius in the fifth century puts Sr. George among those saints, whose names are justly revered among men, but whose actions are known only to God. However, in the middle ages, the story of St. George and the Dragon was popular reading and was included in the Golden Legend, one of the first books to be printed by Caxton, in his own translation.

It was the Crusades that really made St. George popular in the West, although he figures in early Irish and Anglo Saxon calendars. At Canterbury, there is an ancient church dedicated to St George, and it is tempting to think that the dedication could be due to St. Theodore the Greek, who came to Canterbury as Archbishop in 669 from Asia Minor, the homeland of St. George. When, however, the Christian armies from Western Europe arrived in the Holy Land, they found themselves, for the first time, in the part of the world where St. George was regarded as a major saint.

Saint George's arms became the basis of the uniforms of British soldiers and sailors, and George's red cross appears on the Union Jack (British flag) (Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Gill, Sheppard, White).

In art, George is portrayed as a youth in armour, often mounted, killing or having killed a dragon. His shield and lance pennant are a red cross on a white field (White). Generally, there is a princess near him. In some portrayals, (1) the princess leads the dragon; (2) Saint Margaret is the princess; (3) George is in armour standing on the dragon (not to be confused with the Archangel Michael, who is always winged); (4) George is in the robes of the Order of the Garter; (5) with Saint Demetrius in icons; or (6) as George is martyred in a brazen bull, dragged by horses, beheaded with a sword (Roeder).

Icon of Saint George

For a collection of many other images and icons of Saint George

Previous Saint This month Next Saint
[Today's previous saint] [back to Calendar] [Today's next saint]