23 April 2011

23 April - Saint George

Raphael, Saint George Struggling with the Dragon, c1503-05, Louvre

Today is the feast of the titular saint of England, Saint George, soldier and martyr (beheaded c304).

And that is pretty much all we really know about him.  The stories which grew up around this Christian soldier made him the Champion of Chivalry, the Perfect Knight, the leader and protector of all those who swore to emulate him in their conduct.

You will find the well-known story of Saint George and the Dragon in the medieval Golden Legend:
S. George was a knight and born in Cappadocia. On a time he came in to the province of Libya, to a city which is said Silene. And by this city was a stagne or a pond like a sea, wherein was a dragon which envenomed all the country. And on a time the people were assembled for to slay him, and when they saw him they fled. And when he came nigh the city he venomed the people with his breath, and therefore the people of the city gave to him every day two sheep for to feed him, because he should do no harm to the people, and when the sheep failed there was taken a man and a sheep.

The victims were chosen by lot, and as happens, one day the lot fell to the king's daughter.  She was out waiting to be the entree for the dragon's dinner, when Saint George rode by. 

Thus as they spake together the dragon appeared and came running to them, and S. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. And after said to the maid: Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard. 

When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair. Then she led him into the city, and the people fled by mountains and valleys, and said: Alas! alas! we shall be all dead. Then S. George said to them: Ne doubt ye no thing, without more, believe ye in God, Jesu Christ, and do ye to be baptized and I shall slay the dragon. Then the king was baptized and all his people, and S. George slew the dragon and smote off his head, and commanded that he should be thrown in the fields, and they took four carts with oxen that drew him out of the city.

As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, he protected animals and was invoked against plague, leprosy and other skin diseases, and venereal disease. Twelve countries, twenty-seven states and cities, and twenty-three occupations claim him as their patron. See Saints.SQPN.com for the list of his patronages.
The farmer was advised to turn his cattle out into the fields for the season today, and believed that "When on St. George, rye will hide a crow, a good harvest may be expected".

It was customary for the fashionable to wear a blue coat today.

To honor Saint George and our English cousins, wear something blue, eat good roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (or fish and chips, or bangers and mash) and drink one of the many fine ales that the English have spent centuries perfecting.  A few glasses of that and (trust me) you too can slay all the dragons you see!