Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

St George |
The mysterious St. George

St George is drawn from Chapter Two, beginning on page 43, of Volume Three, By This Sign of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit www.TheChristians.info.

A man about whom very little is known became a worldwide hero stirring such fabulous stories that even a pope couldn’t rein in

St George - The mysterious St. George

St George – The mysterious St. George
The most familiar image of St. George depicts him freeing a distressed maiden from a dragon, a dramatic story but one with no historical basis.

Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!” shouts the English king at the siege of Harfleur in Shakespeare’s play, Henry V. Harry is, of course, the nickname of King Henry himself. England is England. But who is St. George? That question cannot be easily answered, any more than the astounding celebrity of this fourth-century saint can be easily explained.

Historians seem to accept only two facts about St. George as reasonably reliable. He was a Christian and he was martyred, probably at Lydda on the coast of Palestine, during the Diocletian persecution. There are reasonable grounds to believe, though there is no compelling evidence, that he was also a Roman soldier, who put his faith before his life.

Historians regard as myth and legend the many other ostensible facts about George that proliferated across Europe in the centuries following his death. The church does not believe, says the Catholic Encyclopedia, that George was put to death three times–once chopped into small pieces, once buried deep in the earth, and once consumed by fire–each time to be reassembled and then to declare his faith. Neither do they believe that he habitually brought dead men to life and baptized them; that he converted people by the tens of thousands, one of them an empress; that he instantaneously destroyed armies of idols or caused beams of timber to burst into leaf; or that when he was finally beheaded, milk rather than blood flowed from his body.

Finally, they do not believe that George slew a dragon–an act forever linked with his image in paintings, statues, stained-glass windows, and British coins–to rescue a damsel that had been turned over to the beast (in some versions, merely a large lizard or other reptile) to save her town from dragonish destruction–if only because the story was not told until he had been dead for nine hundred years.

Having made all these disclaimers, however, historians concede that a puzzle remains. George, whoever he was, must have been an astonishing man. There’s evidence that great pilgrimages were being made to his supposed burial site before the end of the fourth century. Pilgrims spread such astonishing accounts of his miraculous powers that in 495, Pope Gelasius decreed that no more than three miracles could be attributed to him. The stories were straining the credulity of the faithful, he said.

The tales continued to grow, nevertheless. Then, with the Crusades early in the second millennium, devotion to St. George suddenly exploded. The crusaders reported visions of St. George during their sieges of Antioch and Jerusalem. Richard the Lionheart returned to England urging the Cross of St. George as the English flag. Combined with the Cross of St. Andrew and the Cross of St. Patrick, it now forms the Union Jack.

In his book, St. George: The Saint With Three Faces, author David Scott Fox attributes this burst of medieval interest to the growing devotion to the Christian Code of Chivalry, which sought to bring warfare within agreed-upon bounds and adopted St. George as an outstanding model. New orders of knights were created all over Europe, many of them with St. George as their patron.

He was the patron saint of Austria, Burgundy, Holland and Spain, and of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. As special protector for travelers by sea, Venice, Genoa and Barcelona have him as their patron. The Portuguese and the Spanish both claimed George’s patronage in their wars with each other. He championed the Spaniards against the Muslim Moors, and figured prominently in the seven-hundred-year war to expel the Muslims from Spain.

An even greater devotion to St. George developed in Russia and Greece, the former not even evangelized until seven hundred years after his martyrdom. In Russian lore, the saint’s foes were the Mongols, and the shout, “St. George for Holy Russia,” became the dominant battle cry. In Greece, St. George has the title megalomartyr, martyr of the highest order, while his April 23 feast ranks highest after Christmas and Easter, and is still an occasion for games, feasting and dancing. There are sixty churches of St. George on Cyprus. No Greek or Russian church is complete without an icon of St. George.

St. George is also the patron saint of Lebanese and Palestinian Christians. In Egypt, he is the principal patron of the Coptic Christians, and forty Coptic churches and three monasteries bear his name. In Ethiopia, he is known as “the King of Saints.” He and the dragon often appear on gorgeous embroidered Ethiopian saddlecloths. And all this for a man about whom almost nothing is known. It is, some historians admit, a mystery.

This is the end of the St George category article drawn from Chapter Two, beginning on page 43, of Volume Three, By This Sign. To continue reading more about St George from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at www.TheChristians.info