Friday 25 April 2014
SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON
23rd April (two days ago) is the Feast of St George, whose chief interest for cryptozoologists is his battle with the dragon. Actually, Saint George is a saint about whom we really know nothing. Legend has it that he was a soldier martyred in the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, but we cannot be certain if any of this is true. Edward Gibbon tried to identify him with George of Cappadocia, an Arian, who had been given the title of Archbishop of Alexandria and was later killed by a mob, but this has not generally convinced hagiologists.
The story of George and the Dragon possibly had its origins in artistic depictions in the Near East. It was regaled in the west in the Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voraigne. In this tale the dragon lived in a lake in Africa called Silene. The locals, fearing the dragons appetite, had been leaving it an offering of two sheep a day for prandial purposes. Then, when the sheep started to run low, they would leave out one sheep and one human, the latter chosen by lot. When the lot fell on the King's daughter, the King was none too pleased, but happily George turned up, wounded the dragon, then killed it in the city.
We don't know for certain when George became patron of England. A pot-boiler novel called The Seven Champions of Christendom, which appeared in Elizabethan times, made the patron saints of several countries into warriors and had George born in Coventry. Writing in the 19th Century, Charlotte M. Yonge actually believed there had been two St Georges, one born in the East and one in Coventry, probably because of this romance.
In English folklore, the fight between George and the Dragon was said to have taken place in England itself. One tradition placed it at Brinsop (Herefordshire) and the other at Uffington (Oxfordshire).
Saint George's dragon, as depicted in the East, may originally have been symbolic.
The English, I have noticed, don't make anything like the fuss over St George as we Irish do over St Patrick. They are something of a restrained nation.