As a boy, I was always intrigued with Saint George. I was mesmerized with the action-filled depictions of the brave (and handsome!) Knight—mounted atop his rearing steed—thrusting his lance (“Ascalon”) into the writhing Dragon. As I got older, and began to understand the story as a metaphor for good conquering evil, I loved the story even more. I suppose today’s children—raised in the age of “Game of Thrones”—would find Saint George as compelling as I did.
George was born into a Greek Christian family—probably in Cappadocia (modern day Central Turkey)—and followed his father’s footsteps into the Roman army. He progressed quickly and was soon one of the best soldiers serving the Emperor Diocletian. In 303 AD, the Emperor delivered an order to persecute and kill any Christian soldiers who refused to renounce their faith. Although the Emperor did not want to lose one of his best soldiers, the public manner in which George was asked to recant resulted in an equally-public rejection of Diocletian’s mandate. On 23 April 303, George was tortured and killed.
As for the Dragon? There’s no connection between the real-life martyr and any fantastical beast. But the Egyptians and Phoenicians had a popular (and older) story of Horus fighting a dragon. During George’s lifetime, a mounted horseman fighting a dragon would have been a well-known image.
The martyr achieved great popularity—and became a beloved object of veneration—some 800 years later, during the First Crusade. It was during these Middle Ages that the Saint George’s Cross—an upright red cross on a white background—became and important heraldic element. Even today, the Flag of England is a simple Saint George’s Cross (which is also incorporated, along with the Scottish “Saint Andrew’s Cross” into the U.K. “Union Jack”). George is still the patron saint of England and the protector of the British Royal Family. Other countries and principalities claim Saint George as their patron: Romania, Georgia, Malta, Portugal and parts of Spain (Catalonia and Aragon).
The bronze-clad bookends, above, made in the 1920’s, depict the tense battle scene in crisp bas relief. Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.
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