Chasing the Dragon: We lift the lid on this international legend who has cultural significance that far extends England's shores
Who is this St George character?
Saint George, or George to his friends was a Greek born Roman soldier in the guard of Roman Emperor Diocletian. He was born somewhere between AD 256–285 and died on 23 April 303, executed by his own people.
His origins are uncertain, he was possibly born in Cappadocia or Syria. His father died when he was fourteen, after his mother died not long after he followed the custom of a young Roman Noble and travelled to Nicomedia where he joined the Roman army. George was an agreeable chap and by his 20’s he had been promoted to the rank of military tribune and stationed as an imperial guard of the Emperor at Nicomedia.
There is one version of his life story that sees him travelling to Britain with the future emperor Constantine and visiting Glastonbury and Caerleon.
He sounds decent, so why did his own people execute him?
On 24 February 303, the Emperor Diocletian issued an edict that every Christian soldier in his army should renounce their faith and make sacrifice to the Roman gods. On receiving this news, George freed his slaves, distributed his wealth to the poor and went to confront the Emperor. Diocletian attempted to convert George, he offered land, money, and slaves if he would renounce, but he refused. Diocletian soon realised George’s faith was stronger than his will and so sentenced him to death. He was arrested and imprisoned. In a last effort to convert him, Diocletian sent a woman to seduce George in his cell. George ended up converting her to a Christian instead and they were both sentenced to death. George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia's city wall, on 23 April 303. His suffering was great and a witness to it later converted the Empress Alexandra of Rome to become a Christian as well, she was also martyred. It seemed George’s resilience was a danger to the Roman Empire, the influence of his absolute faith spread across the lands. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians honoured him as a martyr and the legend was born.
Didn’t he fight a dragon or something?
There are many stories of Saint George, the Romance stories or the Medieval period often depict him fighting a dragon. This story in itself far predates that of George, it is in fact present in most cultures around the world. The rich symbolism has been interpreted for many causes, but on a basic level the Dragon or ‘monster’ represents evil, an evil in yourself, a philosophical or physical enemy. In Sweden, George rescues a Princess who is said to represent the country of Sweden whereas the Dragon is an invading army. In this sense, the legends of George are based on his real life experience, he resisted indoctrination, the Dragon of Roman repression, the lance that he carries is his faith.
What is he the Saint of exactly?
The real life story of St George is one of resilience and faith, he has inspired and encouraged people across the entire globe. Strangely, many countries or cities believe they are unique in having him as their Saint, far from it. Saint George is revered in:
Georgia, Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Egypt, England, Ethiopia, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, Palestine, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Syria and the United States.
As well as a huge list of cities, he is also Patron Saint of:
Agricultural workers, archers, armourers, The Bulgarian Army, cavalry, chivalry, The Corinthians (Brazilian football team), Crusaders, equestrians, field workers, horsemen, horses, knights, lepers and leprosy, London, Order of the Garter, Palestinian Christians, The Portuguese Army and Navy, Romani people, saddle makers, Scouts, sheep, shepherds, skin diseases, soldiers and Teutonic Knights.
What’s the deal with the St George’s cross?
St George’s cross has been adopted in the flags and culture of many countries. He appears as a prophet in Muslim legend in direct contact with the prophets of Jesus. In stark contrast to this his cross adopted by the Crusaders, as a symbol of resistance against the very same culture. The cross is a symbol used across culture and ideology, for some it represents the crucifix in relation to Christ and therefore sacrifice, the crossing of two lines also represents a centre. The centre represents the centring of the self, or faith. As with all ideological symbols, it has a broad range of meanings and interpretations that can be objective.
I’ve seen that, isn’t it racist?
Well, the connection to the Crusades would have some people suggest that, but that would demonstrate a lack of knowledge of the crusades. The flag itself, in England, gained a bad reputation through its association with football hooligans, a minority that represent only themselves. The flag and St George is revered and worshipped worldwide, across cultures and faiths, as with all symbols it represents what you bring to it as an individual.
How can I celebrate?
Despite being the Patron Saint of England, there’s no bank holiday like in other parts of the world. In England this day was once as much of an event as Christmas, but it would seem that we have lost touch with longstanding traditions, it used to be common to wear a red rose on your lapel and some communities still hold events and processions. Morris dancing groups still consider St. George's day as one of the most significant dates in the year.
In other countries there are a litany of different celebrations on the 23rd of April, Bulgaria have Saint George as their patron and roast whole lambs for family feasts. Albanian communities light fires and dance around them. In Cataluña and Aragón in Spain it is traditional for lovers to gift each other roses and books.
Happy Saint George's day to all our readers!