St George Paolo Uccello Musee Andre Jacquemart ParisIt’s April 23, the feast day of St George, patron saint of England and several other countries.

George was a soldier and martyr. Several legends about his valour soon circulated after his death.

We continue to connect him with slaying the dragon, as depicted in Paolo Uccello’s painting above. This is said to have taken place in a town in Libya called Silene where a dragon terrorised the townspeople. They tried to placate the beast by feeding it animals. When they ran out, they began giving him human beings. The princess Cleolinda, daughter of their king, was about to be sacrificed in desperation. At that point, George rode up on his white charger, dismounted and fought the dragon on foot. When he had subdued the beast, he dragged it through Silene and slayed it in front of the townspeople. Cleolinda’s father offered George a bag of gold for his efforts, but the valiant soldier asked that the money be given to the poor instead.

The Royal Society of St George explains (emphases mine):

The story is a powerful allegory, emblematic of the triumph of good over evil; but it also teaches of enduring Christian faith in the extreme and the trust that at all times should be placed in the Almighty by the invocation of the name of St. George, Soldier, Saint and Martyr.

George was born around 280 AD in Cappadocia, in present day Turkey. He became a cavalryman in the Roman army at the age of 17 during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. He quickly earned a reputation for his remarkable virtue, military bearing, physical strength and good looks.

He was promoted to the rank of Millenary or Tribunus Militum, the equivalent rank of a colonel today. He commanded 1,000 soldiers and was a favourite of Diocletian.

Although we do not know at what point George became a Christian, he practised his faith at a time when most Christians in the Roman Empire hid in fear. Persecution was rife. Diocletian’s second-in-command Galerius decreed that Persia, which he had recently conquered, would be subject to the pagan religion and all Christian places of worship destroyed. Any scripture would also be burnt. Furthermore, Christians would lose their rights as citizens and perhaps their lives.

When George saw an edict to this effect as he entered the city of Nicodemia, he immediately tore it down. The local Christians were relieved to have such a staunch defender of the faith on their side. He, in turn, was compassionate towards them.

As both Diocletian and Galerius were in the city at the time, George knew that he would soon be tried. In preparation, he sold his worldly possessions and freed his personal slaves. The Royal Society of St George tells us:

When he appeared before Diocletian, it is said that St. George bravely denounced him for his unnecessary cruelty and injustice and that he made an eloquent and courageous speech. He stirred the populace with his powerful and convincing rhetoric against the Imperial Decree to persecute Christians. Diocletian refused to acknowledge or accede to St. George’s reasoned, reproachful condemnation of his actions. The Emperor consigned St George to prison with instructions that he be tortured until he denied his faith in Christ. 

St George, having defended his faith was beheaded at Nicomedia near Lyddia in Palestine on the 23rd of April in the year 303 AD.

George’s head was taken to Rome where it rests in a church which was named after him.

It is no wonder that the exploits and faith of George circulated around Europe.

Today, community celebrations are taking place around England. Lytham St Annes has four days of events, Southampton has scheduled a St George’s celebration, Nottingham has a parade, and the West Somerset Railway a special fish and chips lunch. In London, the Coldstream Guards are giving a St George’s Day concert, Trafalgar Square has live music with food stalls and St George’s Hanover Square will feature a concert with the Royal British Legion’s Central Band.

May St George serve as an example to us all. As the Britannia site explains:

Saint George is a leading character in one of the greatest poems in the English language, Spencer’s Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596). St George appears in Book 1 as the Redcrosse (sic) Knight of Holiness, protector of the Virgin. In this guise he may also be seen as the Anglican church upholding the monarchy of Elizabeth I:

But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And dead (as living) ever he adored.

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