Saint of the Day – 23 April – St George (died c 303) also known as St George of Lydda, Jirí, Jordi, Zorzo, Victory Bringer – Martyr and Soldier. St George was born c 256-285 in Palestine and was tortured and beheaded to death in c 303 in Nicomedia, Bithynia, Roman Empire. Patronages – • against herpes • against leprosy • against plague • against skin diseases • against skin rashes • against syphilis • agricultural workers • Aragon • archers • armourers • Boy Scouts • butchers • Canada • Cappadocia • Catalonia • cavalry • chivalry • Crusaders • England • equestrians • Ethiopia • farmers • field hands • field workers • Georgia • Germany • Greece • halberdiers • horsemen • horses • husbandmen • knights • lepers • Lithuania • Malta • Montenegro • Order of the Garter • Palestine • Palestinian Christians • Portugal • riders • Romanian Army • saddle makers • saddlers • Serbia • sheep • shepherds • soldiers • Teutonic Knights • 2 dioceses • 181 cities.
St George was a Roman soldier of Greek origin and officer in the Guard of Roman emperor Diocletian, who was sentenced to death for refusing to recant his Christian faith. As a Christian martyr, he later became one of the most venerated saints in Christianity and was especially venerated by the Crusaders. George’s parents were Christians of Greek background, his father Gerontius was a Roman army official from Cappadocia and his mother Polychronia was a Christian and a Greek native from Lydda in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina.
St George is commemorated and remembered as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and one of the most prominent military saints, he is immortalised in the myth of Saint George and the Dragon. Due to his chivalrous behaviour (protecting women, fighting evil, dependence on faith and might of arms, largesse to the poor), devotion to Saint George became popular in the Europe after the 10th century. In the 15th century his feast day was as popular and important as Christmas. Many of his areas of patronage have to do with life as a knight on horseback. The celebrated Knights of the Garter are actually Knights of the Order of Saint George. The shrine built for his relics at Lydda, Palestine was a popular point of pilgrimage for centuries.
There is little information on the early life of Saint George. Herbert Thurston in The Catholic Encyclopedia states that based upon an ancient cultus, narratives of the early pilgrims and the early dedications of churches to Saint George, going back to the fourth century, “there seems, therefore, no ground for doubting the historical existence of St. George”. According to Donald Attwater, “No historical particulars of his life have survived, … The widespread veneration for St George as a soldier saint from early times had its centre in Palestine at Diospolis, now Lydda. St George was apparently martyred there, at the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century; that is all that can be reasonably surmised about him.”
On 24 February 303, Diocletian, who hated Christians, announced that every Christian the army passed would be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. George refused to abide by the order and told Diocletian, who was angry but greatly valued his friendship with George’s father. When George announced his beliefs before his peers, Diocletian was unable to keep the news to himself. In an effort to save George, Diocletian attempted to convert him to believe in the Roman gods, offered him land, money and slaves in exchange for offering a sacrifice to the Roman gods and made several other offers that George refused.
Finally, after exhausting all other options, Diocletian ordered George’s execution. In preparation for his death, George gave his money to the poor and was sent for several torture sessions. He was lacerated on a wheel of swords and required resuscitation three times but still George did not turn from God.
George was decapitated before Nicomedia’s outer wall. His body was sent to Lydda for burial and other Christians went to honour George as a martyr.
Saint George and the Dragon
There are several stories about George fighting dragons but in the Western version, a dragon or crocodile made its nest at a spring that provided water to Silene, believed to be modern-day Lcyrene in Libya. The people were unable to collect water and so attempted to remove the dragon from its nest on several occasions. It would temporarily leave its nest when they offered it a sheep each day, until the sheep disappeared and the people were distraught. This was when they decided that a maiden would be just as effective as sending a sheep. The townspeople chose the victim by drawing straws. This continued until one day the princess’ straw was drawn. The monarch begged for her to be spared but the people would not have it. She was offered to the dragon but before she could be devoured, George appeared. He faced the dragon, protected himself with the sign of the Cross and slayed the dragon. After saving the town, the citizens abandoned their paganism and were all converted to Christianity.
Saint George stands out among other saints and legends because he is known and revered by both Muslims and Christians.
It is said Saint George killed the dragon near the sea in Beirut, thus Saint George Bay was named in his honour.
Saint George’s feast day is celebrated on 23 April but if it falls before Easter, it is celebrated Easter Monday.
The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates three St George feast days each year -23 April, 3 November, to commemorate the consecration of a cathedral dedicated to him in Lydda, and on 26 November for when a church in Kiev was dedicated to him.
In Bulgaria, his feast day is celebrated 6 May with the slaughter and roasting of a lamb.
In Egypt, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria calls St George the “Prince of Martyrs” and celebrates on 1 May. There is a second celebration 17 November in honour of the first church dedicated to him.
Saint George is the patron saint of England and Catalonia and his cross can be found throughout England including on the English and other Commonwealth flags.
In older works, Saint George is depicted wearing armour and holding a lance or fighting a dragon, which represents Christ’s enemies.