The earliest known depictions of the dragon slaying story comes from 10th or 11th Century Cappadocia and Georgia in which George dispatched a giant monster living in lake in Libya
The earliest known depictions of the dragon slaying story comes from 10th or 11th Century Cappadocia and Georgia in which George dispatched a giant monster living in lake in Libya

St George’s Day: Who was the dragon-slayer and why is he England’s patron saint?

England – and several other countries – celebrate the saint’s day on 23 April

Jon Stone
Friday 23 April 2021 09:58
Comments

Friday 23 April marks the saint’s day of England’s patron saint St George.

English schoolchildren are always taught that he was a knight who slayed dragons but is there more to the historical figure?

Who was he?

According to legend, St George was a Roman soldier born in what is now modern-day Turkey in around 280AD and died around 303.

Very little is known about his early life but it is believed he was born to a wealthy Christian noble family.

When he grew up he became a soldier and joined the retinue of Emperor Diocletian.

In 303 Diocletian, as part of a crackdown on the growing influence of the Christian community, ordered that all Christian soldiers in the army should be expelled and all Roman soldiers be forced to make the traditional pagan sacrifice.

St George refused and denounced the edict in front of his fellow soldiers, declaring he was a Christian.

Diocletian initially tried to convert him with offers of wealth and land but when he refused he was beheaded on 23 April 303.

So what does he have to do with dragons?

The myth of St George slaying a dragon originally appeared in stories told by the mediaeval Eastern Orthodox Church which were brought back to Europe by the Crusaders in the 10th and 11th centuries.

According to one story, a town in Libya had a small lake with a plague-infected dragon living in it. The townspeople were gradually being killed by the dragon and started feeding it two sheep a day to appease it.

When they ran out of sheep the king devised a lottery system to feed it local children. One day his own daughter was chosen and as she was being led out to the lake St George happened to ride past.

He reported offered to slay the dragon if the people converted to Christianity. They all did, and the king later built a church where the dragon died.

If he was from Turkey how did he become the patron saint of England?

King Edward III made St George the country’s official saint just after he came to the throne in 1327.

According to historian Ian Mortimer, a patron saint did not have to be from the country they were born in – they just needed to embody the characteristics the kingdom wanted to project to the outside world.

After all, as well as England, St George is also the patron saint of Portugal, Venice, Beirut, Malta, Ethiopia, Georgia, the Palestinian terrorities, Serbia and Lithuania.

Edward III wanted to rebuild the strength of the English monarchy after the disastrous reign of his father – St George was part of his strategy to make England one of the most powerful and warlike nations in Europe.

This article was originally published in April 2016

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in