St. George and the Dragon
All most people know about St. George is: “He killed a dragon”. Yet much is known about his life, although it needs to be separated from the dragon story.
George was born in the Middle East and became a tribune in the Roman Imperial Guard. In 298 Emperor Diocletian ordered the destruction of churches, banned the Scriptures and ordered Christians to take part in pagan worship.
Not willing to compromise and hoping to stop the persecution, George bravely used his position to gain an interview with the emperor. George’s appeal was rejected and he was beheaded on Good Friday, April 23rd, 304. Within a few years the emperor Constantine had became a Christian and he built a church on George’s place of execution and on his grave at Lydda in Palestine.
The image of a dragon was depicted on the Roman flag and coins. The dragon did not represent evil, but was merely fearsome and probably inspired by the sight of alligators in the river Nile. Constantine issued a coin with the Greek initials for Christ standing over a fallen dragon. This symbolised the Christian victory over the persecuting Roman Empire.
Many legends of varying quality grew about St. George. Then someone, at an unknown date and place, created a meaningful story featuring the saint. It was an allegory, not history. First published during the 13th century, and printed in England in 1483, it became popular as religious literature. When we omit a few words, obviously added by another hand, it reads:
The city is a man, the king is his reason, which aught to rule over his passions, the princess his soul and the dragon the instincts and desires of the flesh. If the instincts are not governed by reason they threaten the soul. At first they may be placated with small things, but growing stronger by these concessions they eventually threaten the immortality of the soul itself. St. George on a white horse symbolizes the Grace of God, which if accepted enables the soul to master the flesh, the desires and facilities of which are then brought meek and controlled into their proper service of the whole man.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, artists and authors portrayed George as a patriotic hero killing England’s enemies (represented by a dragon). These stories have caused both the real life of St. Gorge and the religious allegory, to be forgotten.
Happy St. George’s day!
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