Saint George was a martyr, a patron of England and suffered at or near Lydda, also known as Diospolis, in Palestine probably before the time of Constantine. According to the very careful investigation of the matter instituted by Father Delehaye, the previous statement sums up all that can safely be affirmed about Saint George in the light of modern sources of information, despite his early cultus and preeminent renown both in East and West.
Saint George and the Dragon
The best known form of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon is that made popular by the “Legenda Aurea,” and translated into English by Caxton.
According to legend, a terrible dragon ravaged all the country round a city of Libya called Selena, making its lair in a marshy swamp. Its breath caused pestilence whenever it approached the town, so the townsfolk gave the monster two sheep every day to satisfy its hunger, but when the sheep failed to satisfy, a human victim was necessary and lots were drawn to determine the victim. On one occasion the lot fell to the king’s young daughter. The king offered all his wealth to purchase a substitute, but the people had pledged themselves that no substitutes should be allowed. So the maiden was dressed as a bride and led to the marsh. There Saint George happened to ride by and asked the maiden what she had done, but she bade him to leave lest he also might perish.
The good knight stayed, however, and when the dragon appeared Saint George made the sign of the cross and bravely attacked it and caused it to be transfixed upon his lance. Then asking the maiden for her girdle (an incident in the story which may possibly have something to do with Saint George’s selection as patron of the Order of the Garter), he bound it round the neck of the monster, and thereupon the princess was able to lead it like a lamb. They then returned to the city where Saint George bade the people to have no fear and to be baptized, after which he cut off the dragon’s head and the townsfolk were all converted.
The king would have given George half his kingdom, but the saint replied that he must ride on, bidding the king meanwhile take good care of God’s churches, honor the clergy and have pity on the poor. The earliest reference to any such episode in art is probably to be found in an old Roman tombstone at Conisborough in Yorkshire, considered to belong to the first half of the twelfth century. Here the princess is depicted as already in the dragon’s clutches, while an abbot stands by and blesses the rescuer.
From a Sermon of Saint Peter Damian About Saint George
Saint George was a man who abandoned one army for another. He gave up the rank of tribune to enlist as a soldier for Christ. Eager to encounter the enemy, he first stripped away his worldly wealth by giving all he had to he poor. Then, free, unencumbered and bearing the shield of faith, he plunged into the thick of the battle as an ardent soldier for Christ. Clearly what he did serves to teach us a valuable lesson: if we are afraid to strip ourselves of out worldly possessions, then we are unfit to make a strong defense of the faith.
Dear brothers, let us not only admire the courage of this fighter in heaven’s army, but follow his example. Let us be inspired to strive for the reward of heavenly glory. We must now cleanse ourselves, as Saint Paul tells us, from all defilement of body and spirit, so that one day we too may deserve to enter that temple of blessedness to which we now aspire.
Cf. Catholic Encyclopedia