Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George
William Shakespeare . Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1.
Probably a Soldier and Martyr
of the third or fourth century. Saint George is not only recognised in England but in many other countries around the world. He has been named “The Victory Bringer” due to his exploits as a soldier on the side of good, fighting against evil. Whether or not you believe the legends or even that he existed it doesn’t alter the fact that he has been recognised as our patron since Saint George's Day was first named in England by the Oxford Synod of 1222.
Several stories have been attached to Saint George. The best known is the Golden Legend. In it, a dragon lived in a lake near Silena, Libya. Whole armies had gone up against this Fierce creature, and all had suffered a painful defeat. The monster ate two sheep each day. When mutton was scarce lots were drawn in local villages and maidens were substituted for sheep. Into this country came Saint George. Hearing the story on a day when a princess was to be eaten he crossed himself, rode to battle against the serpent and killed it with a single blow with his lance. George then held forth with a magnificent sermon and converted the locals to Christianity. Given a large reward by the king, George distributed it to the poor then rode away. Many versions of this story are told all over the world. Maybe the ‘Dragon’ is used simply as a symbol to depict evil. Who knows?
Because of his chivalrous behaviour (protecting women, fighting evil, dependence on faith and might of arms, largesse to the poor), devotion to Saint George became popular in the Europe after the 10th. century. In the 15th. century his feast day was as popular and important as Christmas. Many of his areas of patronage have to do with life as a knight on horseback. The celebrated Knights of the Garter are actually Knights of the Order of Saint George. The shrine built for his relics at Lydda, Palestine was a popular point of pilgrimage for centuries. One of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. 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 and unencumbered, bearing the shield of faith, he plunged into the think of the battle, an ardent soldier for Christ. He was tortured and beheaded in Lydda, Palestine around 304 AD.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia.
The man must have existed.
There always has to be a true beginning to start a legend. As with most though, the passing down of the stories are mainly verbal and just like the Chinese whispering game these stories tend to lose parts and gain additions as they are passed on, especially when translated to other languages and directions over a period of many years but there must have been some sort of reality to start the ball rolling.
There are many stories relating to the man known as Saint George and there is no doubt that he was a soldier who fought in defence of the Christian faith. Men from the Crusades came back with stories they had heard of the man who fought wearing the martyr’s cross. Stories which even then were centuries old. King Richard I (Lion heart) used this same cross on his army’s uniform while fighting the battles of the crusades.
Some scholars say that he was a Roman tribune. Some say that he was born in England. Maybe both could be true. The Romans were settled here for more than four hundred years before they were suddenly called back to defend other parts of the empire. There must have been many children born to them while they were here. Early writings dating from the year 322 AD say a man of high rank was beheaded on April 23rd. in 303 AD. in Nicomedia, a city in what is today called Turkey. Unfortunately there is no name mentioned. Some inscriptions from the fourth century were found in Syria which related to Saint George. The fact that so many places have chosen him as their patron saint over the past thousand years must add credibility to the legend.
The earliest mention of his burial place is from Theodosius in 550. He was on a pilgrimage in Lydda and confirmed that there was indeed the tomb of Saint George. There are other legends that add to the confusion. There are also numerous paintings and other artwork depicting Saint George with his shield and flag bearing a red cross on a white background. Surely this alone must be proof of his existence.
The legend of England’s patron saint
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