Martyr, patron of England, suffered at or near Lydda, also known as Diospolis,
in Palestine, probably before the time of Constantine. According to the very
careful investigation of the whole question recently instituted by Father
Delehaye, the Bollandist, in the light of modern sources of information, the
above statement sums up all that can safely be affirmed about St. George,
despite his early cultus and pre-eminent renown both in East and West (see
Saints Militaires, 1909, pp.45-76).
Earlier studies of the subject have generally been based upon an attempt to
determine which of the various sets of legendary
Acts was most likely to
preserve traces of a primitive and authentic record. Delehaye rightly points out
that the earliest narrative known to us, even though fragments of it may be read
in a palimpsest of the fifth century, is full beyond belief of extravagances and
of quite incredible marvels. Three times is George put to death-chopped into
small pieces, buried deep in the earth and consumed by fire-but each time he is
resuscitated by the power of God. Besides this we have dead men brought to life
to be baptized, wholesale conversions, including that of
the Empress Alexandra,
armies and idols destroyed instantaneously, beams of timber suddenly bursting
into leaf, and finally milk flowing instead of blood from the martyr's severed
head. There is, it is true, a mitigated form of the story, which the older
Bollandists have in a measure taken under their protection (see Act. SS., 23 Ap.,
no. 159). But even this abounds both in marvels and in historical contradictions,
while modern critics, like Amelineau and Delehaye, though approaching the
question from very different standpoints, are agreed in thinking that this
mitigated version has been derived from the more extravagant by a process of
elimination and rationalization, not vice versa. Remembering the unscrupulous
freedom with which any wild story, even when pagan in origin, was appropriated
by the early hagiographers to the honour of a popular saint (see, for example,
the case of St. Procopius as detailed in Delehaye,
Legends, ch. v) we are
fairly safe in assuming that the Acts of St. George, though ancient in date and
preserved to us (with endless variations) in many different languages, afford
absolutely no indication at all for arriving at the saint's authentic history.
This, however, by no means implies that the martyr St. George never existed. An
ancient cultus, going back to a very early epoch and connected with a definite
locality, in itself constitutes a strong historical argument. Such we have in
the case of St. George. The narratives of the early pilgrims, Theodosius,
Antoninus, and Arculphus, from the sixth to the eighth century, all speak of
Lydda or Diospolis as the seat of the veneration of St. George, and as the
resting-place of his remains (Geyer,
Itinera Hierosol., 139, 176, 288). The
early date of the dedications to the saint is attested by existing inscriptions
of ruined churches in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, and the church of St.
George at Thessalonica is also considered by some authorities to belong to the
fourth century. Further the famous decree
De Libris recipiendis, attributed to
Pope Gelasius in 495, attests that certain apocryphal Acts of St. George were
already in existence, but includes him among those saints
whose names are
justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are only known to God.
There seems, therefore, no ground for doubting the historical existence of St. George, even though he is not commemorated in the Syrian, or in the primitive Hieronymian Martyrologium, but no faith can be placed in the attempts that have been made to fill up any of the details of his history. For example, it is now generally admitted that St. George cannot safely be identified by the nameless martyr spoken of by Eusebius (Hist. Eccles., VIII, v), who tore down Diocletian's edict of persecution at Nicomedia. The version of the legend in which Diocletian appears as persecutor is not primitive. Diocletian is only a rationalized form of the name Dadianus. Moreover, the connection of the saint's name with Nicomedia is inconsistent with the early cultus at Diospolis.
Still less is St. George to be considered, as suggested by Gibbon, Vetter,
and others, a legendary double of the disreputable bishop, George of Cappadocia,
the Arian opponent of St. Athanasius.
This odious stranger, says Gibbon, in a
disguising every circumstance of time and place, assumed the
mask of a martyr, a saint, and a Christian hero, and the infamous George of
Cappadocia has been transformed into the renowned St. George of England, the
patron of arms, of chivalry, and of the Garter.
But this theory,says Professor
Bury, Gibbon's latest editor,
has nothing to be said for it. The cultus of St.
George is too ancient to allow of such an identification, though it is not
improbable that the apocryphal Acts have borrowed some incidents from the story
of the Arian bishop. Again, as Bury points out,
the connection of St. George
with a dragon-slaying legend does not relegate him to the region of the myth,
for over against the fabulous Christian dragon-slayer Theodore of the Bithynian
Heraclaea, we can set Agapetus of Synnada and Arsacius, who though celebrated as
dragon-slayers, were historical persons. This episode of the dragon is in fact
a very late development, which cannot be traced further back than the twelfth or
thirteenth century. It is found in the Golden Legend (Historia Lombardic of
James de Voragine and to this circumstance it probably owes its wide diffusion.
It may have been derived from an allegorization of the tyrant Diocletian or
Dadianus, who is sometimes called a dragon (ho bythios drakon) in the older text,
but despite the researches of Vetter (Reinbot von Durne, pp.lxxv - cix) the origin
of the dragon story remains very obscure. In any case the late occurrence of
this development refutes the attempts made to derive it from pagan sources.
Hence it is certainly not true, as stated by Hartland, that in George's person
the Church has converted and baptized the pagan hero Perseus (The Legend of
Perseus, iii, 38). In the East, St. George (ho megalomartyr), has from the
beginning been classed among the greatest of the martyrs. In the West also his
cultus is very early. Apart from the ancient origin of St. George in Velabro at
Rome, Clovis (c. 512) built a monastery at Baralle in his honour (Kurth, Clovis,
II, 177). Arculphus and Adamnan probably made him well known in Britain early in
the eighth century. His Acts were translated into Anglo-Saxon, and English
churches were dedicated to him before the Norman Conquest, for example one at
Doncaster, in 1061. The crusades no doubt added to his popularity. William of
Malmesbury tells us that Saints George and Demetrius,
the martyr knights, were
seen assisting the Franks at the battle of Antioch, 1098 (Gesta Regum, II, 420).
It is conjectured, but not proved, that the
arms of St. George
cross, gules) were introduced about the time of Richard Coeur de Lion. What is
certain is that in 1284 in the official seal of Lyme Regis a ship is represented
with a plain flag bearing a cross. The large red St. George's cross on a white
ground remains still the
white ensign of the British Navy and it is also one
of the elements which go to make up the Union Jack. Anyway, in the fourteenth
St. George's arms became a sort of uniform for English soldiers and
sailors. We find, for example, in the wardrobe accounts of 1345-49, at the time
of the battle of Crecy, that a charge is made for 86 penoncells of the arms of
St. George intended for the king's ship, and for 800 others for the men-at-arms
(Archaeologia, XXXI, 119). A little later, in the Ordinances of Richard II to
the English army invading Scotland, every man is ordered to wear
a signe of the
arms of St. George both before and behind, while the pain of death is
threatened against any of the enemy's soldiers
who do bear the same crosse or
token of Saint George, even if they be prisoners. Somewhat earlier than this
Edward III had founded (c. 1347) the Order of the Garter, an order of knighthood
of which St. George was the principal patron. The chapel dedicated to St. George
in Windsor Caste was built to be the official sanctuary of the order, and a
badge or jewel of St. George slaying the dragon was adopted as part of the
insignia. In this way the cross of St. George has in a manner become identified
with the idea of knighthood, and even in Elizabeth's days, Spenser, at the
beginning of his Faerie Queene, tells us of his hero, the Red Cross Knight:
But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore,
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And dead (as living) ever he adored.
We are told also that the hero thought continually of wreaking vengeance:
Upon his foe, a dragon horrible and stern.
Ecclesiastically speaking, St. George's day, 23 April, was ordered to be kept as a lesser holiday as early as 1222, in the national synod of Oxford. In 1415, the Constitution of Archbishop Chichele raised St. George's day to the rank of one of the greatest feasts and ordered it to be observed like Christmas day. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries St. George's day remained a holiday of obligation for English Catholics. Since 1778, it has been kept, like many of these older holidays, as a simple feast of devotion, though it ranks liturgically as a double of the first class with an octave.
SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON
The best known form of the legend of St. George and the Dragon is that made
popular by the
Legenda Aurea, and translated into English by Caxton. According
to this, a terrible dragon had ravaged all the country round a city of Libya,
called Selena, making its lair in a marshy swamp. Its breath caused pestilence
whenever it approached the town, so the people gave the monster two sheep every
day to satisfy its hunger, but, when the sheep failed, a human victim was
necessary and lots were drawn to determine the victim. On one occasion the lot
fell to the king's little daughter. The king offered all his wealth to purchase
a substitute, but the people had pledged themselves that no substitutes should
be allowed, and so the maiden, dressed as a bride, was led to the marsh. There
St. George chanced to ride by, and asked the maiden what she did, but she bade
him leave her lest he also might perish. The good knight stayed, however, and,
when the dragon appeared, St. George, making the sign of the cross, bravely
attacked it and transfixed it with his lance. Then asking the maiden for her
girdle (an incident in the story which may possibly have something to do with St.
George's selection as patron of the Order of the Garter), he bound it round the
neck of the monster, and thereupon the princess was able to lead it like a lamb.
They then returned to the city, where St. George bade the people have no fear
but only be baptized, after which he cut off the dragon's head and the townsfolk
were all converted. The king would have given George half his kingdom, but the
saint replied that he must ride on, bidding the king meanwhile take good care of
God's churches, honour the clergy, and have pity on the poor. The earliest
reference to any such episode in art is probably to be found in an old Roman
tombstone at Conisborough in Yorkshire, considered to belong to the first half
of the twelfth century. Here the princess is depicted as already in the dragon's
clutches, while an abbot stands by and blesses the rescuer.
STEMMER in Kirchenlex., s.v.; DELEHAYE, Les légendes grecques des saints militaires (Paris, 1909), pp.45-76; DELEHAYE, The Legends of the Saints (Eng. tr., London, 1907), pp. 190 and 212; STOKES in Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v. Georgius (43); MATZKE, Contributions to the History of St. George in Publications of the Modern Language Association (Baltimore, 902-3), XVII, 464-535 and XVIII, 99-171; GALTIER in Bulletin del' Institut français d'archéologie orientale (Paris, 1905), IV, 220: HUBER, Zur Georgslegende (Erlangen, 1906); STRZYGOWSKI, Der Koptische Reiterheilige und der heilige Georg (Leipzig, 1902); GORRES, Ritter St. Georg in Zeitschrift f. wiss. Theologie, XVI, pp.454 sqq.; Act SS., 23 Apr.; DILLMANN, Apok. Märtyrergeschichten, in the Sitzungsberichte of the Berlin Academy, 1887; AMÉLINEAU, Les Actes des Martyrs de l'Eglise Copte (Paris, 1890); GUTSCHMID, Die Sage Vom H. Georg, in the Berichte of the Saxon Academy, XIII (Leipzig, 1861); ZARNCKE, Passio S. Georgii, in the Berichte of the Saxon Academy, XXVII (Leipzig, 1875); CLERMONT-GANNEAU, Horus et St. Georges in the Revue Archeologique, new series, XXXII, pp.196-204 and 372-99; ZWIERZINA, Bemerkungen zur Georgius-Legende, in Prager deutsche Studien (Prague, 1908), VIII, 1-10; DETLEFSEN in Sitzungsberichte K.K. Acad. (Vienna, 1858), XXVIII, 386-95; VETTER. Der heilige Georg des Reinbot von Durne (Halle, 1896); WALLIS BUDGE, The Martyrdom and Miracles of St. George, the Coptic texts and translation (London, 1888); THURSTON in The Month (April, 1892); FRIEDRICH, Der geschichtliche heilige Georg, in the Vienna Sitxungsberichte, 1889, II, 159-203; VESELOVSKIJ in the Sbornik of the St. Petersburg Academy (1881), XXI, 172-89; ARNDT in the Berichte of the Academy of Saxony, XXVI, pp.49-70 (Leipzig, 1874); on St. George in Art see especially: SCHARF, On a Votive Painting of St. George and the Dragon in Archaelogia, XLIX, pp.243-300 (London, 1885); GORDON, St. George Champion of Christendom (London, 1907); BULLEY, St. George for Merrie England (London, 1908); on the Flag and Arms of St. George: CUMBERLAND, History of the Union Jack (London, 1901); GREEN, The Union Jack (London, 1903).
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