Today’s Treasures – Happy St. George’s Day
The Story of the Patron Saint of England
It is believed that George was born in Cappadocia – an area which is now in Turkey – in the 3rd century; that his parents were Christians; and that when his father died, George’s mother returned to her native Palestine, taking George with her. George became a soldier in the Roman army and rose to the rank of Tribune.
The Emperor of the day, Diocletian (245-313 AD), began a campaign against Christians at the very beginning of the 4th century. George is said to have objected to this persecution and tore up the Emperor’s order against Christians which infuriated Diocletian. George was imprisoned but refused to deny his faith. Eventually he was dragged through the streets of Palestine and beheaded. Stories of his courage spread throughout Europe.
King Edward III made him the Patron Saint of England when he formed the Order of the Garter in St. George’s name in 1350, and the cult of the Saint was further advanced by King Henry V, at the battle of Agincourt in northern France.
In Shakespeare’s play, King Henry V completes his famous pre-battle speech with the phrase: “Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!”
There is however more myth than fact in the story of St. George and The Dragon. Folklore tells that St. George killed a dragon on the flat topped Dragon Hill in Uffington, Berkshire, and that no grass grows where the dragon’s blood fell. This tale was similar to The Golden Legend printed by Caxton in 1483. Saint George was quickly incorporated into miracle plays adapted from pagan sources and is a prime figure in the famous epic poem The Fairie Queen portrayed as the Redcrosse Knight.
The Golden Legend tells the story of a town in Cappadocia, terrorised by a dragon; to placate it, the townspeople fed it sheep, then people were selected by a straw poll to be sacrificed to the dragon. Unbeknown to the King, the princess had included her name and eventually she drew the short straw. The king was mortified, but the princess insisted on taking her place – happily just then St. George came along. When the princess explained her predicament, Saint George confronted the dragon, made the sign of the cross and then stabbed the dragon with his sword, wounding it. Led by the girl’s girdle, the dragon followed them into the town.
The townspeople were terrified when they saw the dragon, but George told them if the King and all the people were baptised then he would slay the dragon – they agreed, the dragon was slain and a church of Our Lady and Saint George was built on the site – where there sprang up a fountain of healing water which flows to this day. The story continues, telling how Saint George continued to preach Christianity and so earned the wrath of Diocletian, he survived many attempts on his life until he was finally beheaded.
The photograph of this dragon was taken at The British Ironwork Centre near Oswestry with Clive Knowles at a charity event; the centre reopened to visitors on 12th April. Visit www.britishironworkcentre.co.uk @britishironworks for more details.
Published in the April edition of the Whitchurch Gossip