St George

The life of St George is shrouded in legend, with many tales of his bravery and martyrdom having been told over the years.

George was born in about 280 AD in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (now known as Turkey) of noble and wealthy Christian parents and it is thought that he was of tall stature with fair hair. When his father died he moved with his mother to Palestine and followed the usual path of most young noblemen by joining the Roman Army at the age of 17. Very quickly his ability and charm, coupled with his virtue and chivalry, earned him quick promotion to the rank of Tribune (similar to that of a Colonel) in the Imperial Guard of Emperor Diocletian.

During his time in the army he is believed to have travelled to Britain, visiting such holy places as Glastonbury and Caerleon. It is thought that he was accompanied by Constantine, a fellow officer and friend who later became the first Christian Emperor of Rome.

It was during his time in the army, when he was stationed near Silene in Libya, that the most famous of the legends was born - that of his fight with the dragon, which was documented by James de Voraigne, a bishop of Genoa.

According to the legend a large beast, described as a huge crocodile with scaled wings, lived in a lake and terrorised the nearby town. Whole armies had tried to kill the dragon but had been defeated. The dragon had taken up a position outside the town gates which meant that nobody could get in or out of the town and itís breath was said to be so poisonous that people would drop dead in the nearby area. Therefore, in order to try and keep the dragon away from the city walls the locals offered it two sheep a day. However, they soon ran out of sheep and decided to try sacrificing some of the citizens, starting with the young maidens. Finally the Kingís daughter was selected for sacrifice and was put outside the city walls to await her fate. At that point George came along, mounted on his white horse, and slaughtered the dragon with a single blow of his lance thus rescuing the princess. For such a deed he was given a large reward by the king which he distributed to the poor before riding off back to the army.

George returned to Nicomedia to find that Emperor Diocletian, who was a pagan, was persecuting all Christians and putting them to death. Things came to a head on 23 February 303 when Diocletian issued a formal edict against Christians decreeing that ĎAll churches should be levelled to the ground. All sacred books should be burned. All Christians who hold any honourable rank should not only be degraded but should be deprived of civil rights. All Christians who are not officials should be reduced to slaveryí. This enraged George so much that he tore down the edict and threw it away, which resulted in him being arrested and brought in front of Diocletian.

In the subsequent confrontation George denounced the Emperor for the harshness of his decree and the dreadful persecution of Christians. Despite a number of inducements, George refused to renounce his faith and therefore was thrown into prison and tortured before being dragged through the streets and beheaded on 23 April 303.

He was buried in his motherís home by the sea at Lydda, Palestine although his head was taken to Rome, where it was preserved in the church that was dedicated to him. When Constantine became Emperor in 306 he ordered that a church be built over the grave of St George which became a shrine for all Christians.

Before long, the stories of his courage spread and he became famous all over world. A number of churches were dedicated to him, over 200 in Egypt alone. In 1222, the Council of Oxford appointed 23 April as his feast day and in 1415 he became the patron saint of England following the Battle of Agincourt. In 1497 in the reign of Henry VIII, the pennant of the Cross of St. George was flown by John Cabot when he sailed to Newfoundland and it was also flown by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1620 it was the flag that was flown by the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Plymouth Massachusetts. It is also the flag of the Church of England and as such is known throughout Christendom.

St George is also the patron saint of Catalonia, Moscow, Georgia and Aragon as well as being the Saint of Battles.

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