Saint George (c. 275/280–April 23, 303) was a soldier of the Roman Empire who later became a Christian martyr. Immortalised in the tale of George and the Dragon, he is the patron saint of several countries and cities, including England, Georgia and Moscow, as well as a wide range of professions, organisations and disease sufferers.
George was born to a Christian family during the late 3rd century. His father was from Cappadocia and served as an officer of the army. His mother was from Lydda, Palestine. She returned to her native city as a widow along with her young son, where she provided him with an education.
The youth followed his father's example by joining the army soon after coming of age. He proved to be a good soldier and consequently rose through the military ranks of the time. By his late twenties he had gained the title of Tribunus (Tribune) and then Comes (Count), at which time George was stationed in Nicomedia as a member of the personal guard attached to Roman Emperor Diocletian (reign 284–305).
In 303, Diocletian issued an edict authorising the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. His caesar, Galerius, was supposedly responsible for this decision and would continue the persecution during his own reign (305–311). George was ordered to take part in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticised the imperial decision. An enraged Diocletian ordered the torture of this apparent traitor, and his execution.
After various tortures, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia's defensive wall on April 23, 303. The witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.
church in St. George's honour was reportedly built in Lydda during the reign of Constantine I (reigned 306–337, sole emperor since 324). The church was destroyed in 1010 but was later rebuilt by the Crusaders. In 1191 and during the conflict known as the Third Crusade (1189–1192), the church was again destroyed by the forces of Saladin, Sultan of the Ayyubid dynasty (reigned 1171–1193). A new church was erected in 1872 and is still standing.
During the 4th century the veneration of George spread from Palestine to the rest of the Eastern Roman Empire. By the 5th century it had reached the Western Roman Empire as well. In 494, George was canonised as a saint by Pope Gelasius I (term 492–496), among those "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the earliest text preserving fragments of George's narrative is in Acta Sanctorum identified by Hippolyte Delehaye of the scholarly Bollandists to be a palimpsest of the 5th century.
One of the earliest extant depictions of St. George survives in a church at the Russian village of Ladoga.In the iconography of Eastern Orthodoxy, George has been depicted as a soldier since at least the 7th century. Since the 9th century, another depiction is of "George and the Dragon".
A 15th-century plaque from Georgia portraying St George.St.George's tomb is in Israel's city of Lod, not far away from Ben Gurion airport. The tomb is said to be myrrh-bearing.
George and the Dragon
Main article: George and the Dragon
A dragon maks its nest at the spring that provides the city-state with water. Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, in order to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon a human sacrifice. The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happened to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life with no result. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears the saint on his travels. He faces the dragon, slays it and rescues the princess. The grateful citizens abandon their ancestral Paganism and convert to Christianity.
Saint George and the Dragon, Paolo Uccello, c. 1470. This small one has the look of a griffin or a wyvern.In some accounts, the dragon is named Stihdjia.
Secular historians consider the roots of the story to be older than Christianity itself. Examples such as Sabazios, the Sky father, who was usually depicted riding on horse-back, and Zeus's defeat of Typhon the Titan in Greek mythology, along with examples from Germanic and Vedic traditions, have led a number of historians to suggest that George is a Christian version of older deities in Indo-European culture.
In Sweden, the princess rescued by Saint George is held to represent the kingdom of Sweden, while the dragon represents an invading army. Several sculptures of Saint George battling the dragon can be found in Stockholm, the first inside Storkyrkan ("The Great Church") in the Old Town.
Saint Mercurialis, the first bishop of the city of Forlì, in Romagna, is often portrayed in the act of killing a dragon.
St. George is most commonly depicted in early icons, mosaics and frescos wearing the armour of a Roman soldier . After the fall of Constantinople and the association of St George with the crusades, he is more often portrayed mounted upon a white horse. At the same time St George began to be associated with St. Demetrius, the other early martyred Roman soldier. The two Saints are often portrayed together mounted upon horses, in this respect they are likened to earthly manifestations of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. St George is always depicted upon a white horse and St. Demetrius on a red horse (or a black horse where the pigment used has decayed). St George can also be identified in the act of spearing a dragon, unlike St Demetrius, who is sometimes shown spearing a human figure, understood to represent Maximian.
Later depictions and occurrences
Moscow has probably more sculptures of St. George slaying the dragon than any other city: the iconography is even represented on Moscow's (and Russia's) coat of arms.During the early 2nd millennium, George came to be seen as the model of chivalry, and during this time was depicted in works of literature, such as the medieval romances.
Jacobus de Voragine (c. 1230 – July 13, 1298), Archbishop of Genoa compiled the Legenda Sanctorum (Readings or Legends of the Saints), also known as Legenda Aurea (Golden Legends) for its worth among readers. Its 177 chapters (182 in other editions) contain the story of Saint George among them.
St George and Dragon in BerlinThe "Colours of Saint George" (more commonly called St George's Cross) are a white flag with a red cross, frequently borne by entities over which he is patron (e.g. England, Georgia, Liguria, Catalonia etc).
The origin of the St George's Cross came from the earlier plain white tunics worn by the early crusaders.
The same colour scheme was used by Viktor Vasnetsov for the facade of the Tretyakov Gallery, in which some of the most famous St. George icons are exhibited and which displays St. George as the coat of arms of Moscow over its entrance.
Patronage and remembrance
The cult of St George probably first reached the Kingdom of England when the crusaders returned from the Holy Land in the 12th century. King Edward III of England (reigned 1327 – 1377) was known for promoting the codes of knighthood and in 1348 founded the Order of the Garter. During his reign, George came to be recognised as the patron saint of England. Edward dedicated the chapel at Windsor Castle to the soldier saint who represented the knightly values of chivalry which he so much admired, and the Garter ceremony takes place there every year. Shakespeare's Henry V rallies his troops with the cry, “God for Harry, England and St George.” The City of Salisbury holds an annual St George’s Day pageant, the origins of which are believed to date from the thirteenth century.
A 2006 gold proof half sovereign by the Royal Mint depicting St George killing the dragonOn the Iberian peninsula, George also came to be considered as patron to the Crown of Aragon (Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Majorca; Catalan: Sant Jordi) and Portugal (Portuguese language: São Jorge) during their struggles against Castile. Their previous patron Saint James the Great was considered more strongly connected to Castile. Already connected in accepting George as their patron saint, in 1386 England and Portugal agreed to an Anglo-Portuguese Alliance. Today this treaty between the United Kingdom and Portugal is still in force.
Saint George is a patron Saint of the nation of Georgia. The popular saint would also come to be honored as patron to a number of other countries, cities and causes. The latter vary from archers and Scouts to skin diseases and herpes.
In 1969, Saint George's feast day was reduced to an optional memorial in the Roman Catholic calendar, and the solemnity of his commemoration depends on purely local observance. He is, however, still honoured as a saint of major importance by Eastern Orthodoxy.
In Greece, St. George is the patron saint of the Hellenic Army. His image adorns all regimental battle flags (Colours), and military parades are held in his honour on 23 April every year in most army garrison towns and cities.
His feast date, April 23, is the Day of Aragon (Spain) and is also a holiday in Catalonia, where it is traditional to give a rose and a book to the loved one. This, together with the anniversary of the deaths, in 1616, of Cervantes and Shakespeare, has led UNESCO to declare April 23 World Book and Copyright Day.
St George's Day is also celebrated with parades in those countries of which he is the patron saint. Also, St George is the patron saint of Scouting. On St George's day (or the closest Sunday), Scouts from around the world generally take part in a parade and some kind of church service in which they renew their Scout Promise.
In the US Army, St. George is seen as the patron saint of Armored Forces as he is the only saint depicted as fighting while mounted. The St. George Medal is awarded to officers and high ranking non-commissioned officers serving in command positions at the batallion or company level.
The Georgian Orthodox Church commemorates St. George's day twice a year, on May 6th and November 23rd. The feast day in November was instituted by St. Nino (the Enlightener of Georgia) herself in the fourth century. She was his relative. This feast day is unique to Georgia. This is the day of St. George's martyrdom.
In Islamic cultures, the figure of al-Khadr (or al-Khidr; according to the Qur'an a companion of the prophet Moses), is associated with St.George, who is also venerated under that name by Christians among mainly Muslim people, especially Palestinian people, and mainly around Jerusalem, where according to tradition he lived and often prayed near the Temple Mount, and is venerated as a protector in times of crisis. His main monument is the elongated mosque Qubbat al-Khadr ('The Dome of al-Khadr') which stands isolated from any close neighbors on the northwest corner of the Dome of the Rock terrace in Jerusalem.