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On this day a very influential martyred saint, St. George is celebrated on the day of his death, like many saints are around the world. When I write about saints you can be sure that the subject is far-reaching and his history is certainly that and more. The following account about him is what I have discovered and there is almost too much material to write about~ starting with the fact that he seems to be the saint of everything! Well, … that isn’t entirely true. Read on…
April is a busy month around the world. In the United States, for example, we celebrate this as Poetry Month and it seems to be a month of reawakening senses, Spring arrives and the flowers wake up and bloom again. Since Easter is over we think that most of the holidays are behind us but St George’s Day is celebrated on this day in many countries because he is the patron Saint of so many of them– ten countries to be exact– with Portugal, Russia, Greece and England among them– as well as thirteen European cities. Perhaps it’s because his story was so universal as the ultimate hero–saint that so many have embraced this cultural icon of heroism.
His name was George of Lydda (Palestine), a Christian nobleman, who lived in the third century of our Lord and he was not only a Roman soldier but became the Guard of Emperor Diocletian and he was immortalized in a tale of his slaying a dragon. The western version of the tale is that a dragon had made its home near a city’s spring (Silene which may have been Cyrene) and try as they might the citizens could not get the dragon to leave so that they could draw water from it. To obtain water, they had to offer the dragon livestock and even virgin women. The chosen maidens were picked by drawing lots. One day the princess happened to be the unlucky recipient and her father begged them not to use her but they could not be dissuaded. She was offered to the dragon when St. George appeared back from his latest trip and slayed the dragon just in time to save the princess. All the people were so happy that they converted to Christianity. This classic story is a myth rooted in grand mythological traditions like that of Perseus and Andromeda, Zeus’s defeat of Typhon the Titan and also German fairy tales.
The truth of his life and death are much less romantic but definitely those from which the age shows the early Christian experience of persecution and perseverance. By the age of fourteen George was orphaned and he came to Diocletian expressly to become a soldier. Because Diocletian had known his father, Geronzio, to be one of his finest soldiers he quickly promoted George to the rank of Tribunus which requires much wisdom on the part of the person given such a rank.
In the year 302 the tide turned when Diocletian decreed under the influence of Galerius, that every Christian soldier be made to offer a sacrifice to their pagan gods. George objected and came forward to expressly denounce the edict openly with soldiers and Tribunes looking on. Diocletian attempted to convert George by offering him lands, wealth and even slaves but George flatly refused and so Diocletian had him tortured and executed.
As a result a church was built during Constantine’s reign (306-337) which was dedicated to George anonymously. That church was destroyed in 1010 but it was rebuilt by the Crusaders. That also was destroyed when Saladin led his forces during the Third Crusade (1189-1192) but was rebuilt again in 1872 and it still stands.
Veneration of him spread through the middle east, the Eastern Roman Empire, then was carried up to Georgia by St Nino of Cappadocia (who was considered a relative of George). By the fifth century his fame which had reached the Western Roman Empire along with a canonization by Pope Gelasius I along with others "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God" made his sainthood official. St George came to be the Patron Saint of England through Bede who influenced the church at Fordington, Dorset to dedicate the church to his name and this is mentioned in the will of Alfred the Great who was the first King of Briton. From the time of the Crusades his fame gained momentum and became all encompassing taking on more and more importance first as a military order in Aragon, Genoa, Hungary, and by Frederick III, Edward III who put his Order of the Garter under the banner of St. George.
By 1222, April 23rd was officially declared the Feast of St. George from the Synod of Oxford and many shrines have been established in Britain since the late fifteenth century. It was not established as a national holiday but basically was taken on as a holiday community by community. Interestingly, when the Reformation under Henry VIII curtailed saints’ days, St. George’s Day was among those which continued to be observed.
This entry shows many of the icons which depict St. George whether a coat of arms, a cross or art but the most surprising proliferation of his iconography is in Moscow which contains more statues and sculptures of him than in any other city. His colors are a white flag with a red cross and this color scheme can be seem in Viktor Vasnetsov’s Moscow Coat of Arms façade at the Tretyakov Art Museum in Moscow which also contains many famous exhibits of St. George icons.
As a matter of fact, the Russian Orthodox church has two more feast days dedicated to this saint on November third and November twenty-sixth for a cathedral consecrated to him in Lydda and the latter for a church dedicated to him in Kiev, respectively. Around the world, however, April 23rd is seen as his official day which had been decreed by the Pope in the Fifth century.
The Castle of St. George, in Lisbon holds a special place in that his introduction there created the earliest international alliance in the world between that of England and Portugal. English crusaders helped King Affonso Henriques conquer Lisbon early in the twelfth century and by Affonso IV’s time Sao Jorge’s name was used as a battle cry in place of Santiago (Saint James). England’s King John made sure that he replaced Saint James as the patron saint of Portugal through his own devotion and he has been their patron saint ever since.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of his sainthood is that he crossed over into other religions and cultures so easily. As a matter of fact he is the only catholic saint to become a true interfaith saint. Moslem Arabs refer to him as El Khudder – The Green – and believe that he can restore sanity to the mentally ill. He is also attributed as the patron saint of syphilis and skin disease sufferers, the Boys Scouts of America, Freemasons and the Teutonic Knights and there are several orders of the latter which directly call themselves Knights of St. George. There are many more examples of his patron sainthood all over the world and the feasts and honors connected with him are well-venerated.
If we count an honorable person’s reputation by how many times their depiction appears on postage stamps St. George would win hands down in any contest. (Princess Diana is close second on this score.)He appears as a knight slaying a dragon on stamps all over the world but I assume that in most cases the reason why he is so far-reaching in both legend and truth is because he represents all those who fight against evil and defend the innocent. No wonder so many cultures embrace his image as a hero’s hero!
April 28, 2009 : Congrats to the Nuggets on your 121-63 whuppin’ of the Hornets !