Saint George, the patron Saint of England is today celebrated. Saint George was first mentioned in documentation by the monk Bede in c. 673 – 735 and in the liturgy of Alfred the great which documented the miraculous appearance of Saint George whom lead the crusaders into battle. Famously, Shakespeare’s Henry V mentions Saint George in the famous line “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!”. It’s a banner all English people associate with as it instills what it means to be part of a proud English heritage. And of course in Bram Stoker’s Dracula where evil begins on the day of Saint George. “It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?”.
Saint George’s day is not just celebrated in England alone but in many countries around the world. It is a Christian celebration, a feast to Saint George. But lets talk about the dragon! This is what legends are made of. Tales passed to our children, about knights, princesses and fire-breathing dragons….are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
There once was a kingdom and the people of the kingdom where being terrorized by a dragon. The frightened people would offer up two lambs to appease the dragon’s hunger. However, the lambs were becoming scarce, so the people decided to offer a person up to sacrifice to the dragon by lot. Each family of the sacrificed person would receive recompense of gold. But the people grew angry that the royal family did not sacrifice any of their own family. So it was decided that the princess would be sent next.
The princess went along with one lamb to the dragon’s lair but on her journey she met a knight called George. On hearing about the dragon, George drew his sword and battled the dragon, slaying the dragon through its heart. The dragon lay vanquished, blood flowing into the ground and from the blood soaked ground roses began to grow. George being a gentleman took the rose and offered it to the princess.
The king offered wealth and riches to the knight but he gave it to the people. The people built a church in Georges name and by a miracle, water flowed from it which healed the sick.
Even today in some countries it is customary on Saint Georges day for men to give woman a red rose.
So who was Saint George? Well he wasn’t English. He was born in what is now Turkey and was a Roman soldier who had risen in the ranks. For turning to Christianity he was executed. His symbol was later used during the Crusades as an emblem of fighting for Christianity and converting people to Christianity. The emblem of the red cross is the english flag and used on tunics during the Crusades and sometimes included Saint George slaying the dragon on the shields.
The dragon was also a symbol of other religious beliefs outside of christianity such as the pagans and Druids whose beliefs would incorporate human and animal sacrifice to appease their Gods. Of course a dragon is serpent like and the relation to a Dragon and satan is fairly obvious as is the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Evil and temptation is what is probably being conveyed here being overthrown by those who follow in the footsteps of the christian God.
There are variations of the story where the water is being withheld by the Dragon and by slaying the Dragon the water is free to flow to the people. Again this is symbolic of the Christian message of removing an unholy obstacle to let the message of God wash over you.
It’s interesting that Bram Stoker hits upon Saint Georges day as “all the evil things in the world will have full sway” as if the battle over evil has not yet been won and Dracula(meaning:son of Dracul, based on Vlad II who wore the dragon emblem, aka Vlad the impaler) is from the Order of the Dragon. We can see parallels of fighting for one’s soul, the corruption of Lucy’s soul and saving that of Wilhelmina and Jonathon Harker against the evil of Dracula, or the Dragon. Dracula who once fought to protect Christianity but turns his back on God.
So the story is perpetual, Saint George marks an ideology of mans battle over evil and ultimately being saved by God. Even though we celebrate it today I wonder how much of the battle has been won and how much of the symbolism is lost in today’s society. Does it still matter? Possibly; this is a personal question on our own beliefs. We all have our demons to face and battle whatever our faith. Only when we vanquish them can we truly celebrate.