Saint of the Month: St George

St George

Feast day: 23 April

There is very little known about St George (275/81 - 303) but he is one of the most widely venerated saints in both the western and eastern churches. It is very difficult to separate legend from historical fact. It is said that his parents were of Syrian origin. His father Gerontius was an officer in the Roman army and his mother Polychronia was a native of Syria. It is disputed as to whether he was born in Cappodocia in modern Turkey or in Syria Palestina but it is agreed he spent sometime in Lydda. Both his parents were Christian. He followed his father into the Roman army under the Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian conducted a persecution of Christians in the Roman army in 303. The legend gives this as the date of George’s martyrdom. Diocletian was unwilling to execute George and tried to persuade him to sacrifice to the Roman gods offering him land, money and slaves but George refused. He was then tortured and beheaded. Much of this information comes from sources that are questionable, including the well-known Golden Legend translated by William Caxton in the fifteenth century. There is also the well-known story of St George and the dragon which is similar to Perseus and Andromeda.

Pope Gelasius declared that George was one of those saints "whose names are reverenced among men but whose deeds are known only to God." This would seem to be a very accurate summary of George’s importance. He is an archetype, a holy warrior figure who defends against evil like St Michael. He is an inspiration in times of crisis. He is honoured in many countries from Spain, Portugal and Malta in the west to Bulgaria and Romania in the East. He is of course the patron saint of England.  He is mentioned in the writings of Bede who lived in the seventh and eighth centuries. His cult began before the Norman conquest in the eleventh century and by the fourteenth century he had been declared patron and protector of the royal family. The English flag with a red cross on a white ground was also used by the crusaders and became offensive to Muslims. Paradoxically St George is honoured in Islam as El Khudder.

St George is a very popular subject in art, especially in orthodox icons. He is depicted as a Roman soldier in armour often mounted on a white horse killing the dragon.

St George, pray for us.