Feast Day: 23 April
The dragon story
Saint George is often known as the patron saint of England; a noble knight who, to save a town and princess, fought against the last dragon and slew it in an epic battle in which he was only able to achieve victory when he consecrated himself to the sign of the cross.
While a great story, this is of course not entirely true. In the story, all the different roles represent real events but embellished to make them more exciting. St. George was indeed a soldier; it is believed he lived at the end of the 3rd century and was martyred at the start of the 4th. He came from a noble Christian house and quickly rose through the ranks to become part of the retinue of the Emperor Diocletian.
The last dragon in the story is interchangeable as Emperor Diocletian and the Devil as in the latter years of the emperor’s reign he ordered the empire’s last, largest and bloodiest official persecution of Christianity; and so in the story the dragon begins to consume more and more of the town’s livestock and belongings. The princess represents the purity and truth of the Church; through Saint George’s epic struggle with the emperor this truth and purity were not destroyed. Lastly, it was only through St. George completely relying on God’s grace, symbolised by him making the sign of the cross, that he was able to go through such a difficult challenge.
Defying the Emperor
The actual story is not known in its entirety but the basic outline is this: When the emperor decided to begin the persecution of Christians, he ordered all men of the army to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods and to begin rounding up the Christian communities. St. George refused to go along with this order and with the courage of his faith, approached the Emperor and ruler. Diocletian was upset; he did not wish to lose his best tribune and the son of his best official, Gerontius. But George loudly renounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ.
Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods; he made many offers, but George never accepted. This enraged the emperor as not only did it allow more Christians to escape or go underground but St. George’s defiance inspired both Christians and non-Christians alike as he was clearly willing to give up everything, including one of the most prestigious ranks in the army, for his faith and Church.
Saint George was later arrested, tortured and martyred but this only strengthened the witness he’d given. Many influential figures converted because of it, even though this led to their own martyrdom as well.
Why Saint George is important to me
A reflection from someone in our young Catholic community
Growing up in a small Midland shire town, I always loved St. George’s Day with all the traditions that went with it. As I grew up though, rather than the legend of the dragon inspiring me, it soon became his actual actions. St. George was just a normal man but, rather than take the easy life and have everything he wanted, he decided to give it all up and die a brutal death for something he believed to be far more important and life-giving. His story really helped to drive home the fact that while it may be nice to have the luxuries of life, if God’s not at the centre we can end up supporting awful causes; but when God becomes the centre an ordinary life becomes legendary.
Saint George, heroic Catholic soldier and defender of your faith. You dared to criticize a tyrannical Emperor and were subject to horrible torture. You could have occupied a high military position, but you preferred to die for your Lord. Good St George, obtain for us the great grace of heroic Christian courage that should mark all soldiers of Christ. Amen.