Whilst we were all learning so much in Chichester Cathedral, the queston of who St George was kept cropping up!! It is so strange that a knight on horseback slaying a dragon is representative of our patron saint. We have all researched the topic ad nauseum… and really are still none the wiser. But it is thought that the legend was so popular in the Middle East, that when Richard the Lionheart was returning from the Crusades at the end of the 12th Century he used the emblem of St George – a red cross on a white background – on the tunics of his soldiers so as to avoid confusion in battle. But what was the legend?
The English version begins with a baby called George being stolen by a wicked enchantress, who falling in love with him, decided that she wants him to become a powerful knight. On growing up she gaves him a wonderful horse called Bayard and equipped him with the magical sword of Ascalon. His journeys led him to the town of Silene – thought to be in present day Libya – where he met a troubled hermit who told him of the plight of the King.
“In yonder town there is great distress for in the dark waters of the lake nearby there dwells a terrible dragon. its scales are as hard as brass, its wings are like flames, its front paws are as strong as a lion, in its jaws are teeth of iron, while from its nostrils comes thick poisonous smoke. Soldiers have been sent to kill it, but are driven back by its fiery breath. Each day two sheep used to be sent out from the town to feed the monster. But with all the animals now gone, lots are drawn for the people to be sacrificed. And now the King is in sore trouble, for the lot this day has fallen upon his own daughter, the most beautiful Princess Sabra.”
“Let me rest a while,” said St George; “then show me the valley where the dragon comes and I will fight the monster!” The following day the princess was making her way sadly out to meet her fate when she saw a knight in shining armour on a white charger coming towards her. “Fear not” says St George, ” for by the help of God I will slay the dragon and free all your people from its power!”
Quickly he lifted the princess on to his horse and took her to a place of safety. Then seeing the dragon approaching he charged at it, but his spear glanced off the creature’s back and he could make no wound. Then he and his horse were felled to the ground but as the dragon raised itself over him, the knight drove his spear under its wing and wounded it. They struggled for hours and at last St George thrust his sword into the dragon’s mouth and the creature fell dead at his feet! The king and his people were mourning the death of the princess and were fearful of opening the town’s gates, but St George cried, “The dragon is dead.” With that the gates were thrown open to welcome their deliverer and the beautiful princess. So ended the fight of St George and the dragon. He went on to have many more adventures, yet he was always ready to protect weak and to be the champion of the helpless!!
St George’s Chapel in Windsor endorses this idea that the legend of St George represents courage and dignity linked with Christian fidelity and gentleness and stands as a fine example of chivalry fitting for the Patron Saint of England. But he has not always been out patron saint; until the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 when St George is said to have appeared and filled the English with Christian bravery, Saint Edward the Confessor was our chosen patron. But after then, although it took him almost 200 years to achieve such status, Saint George was held dear in the hearts of the English folk.