Feast Day: 23 April
St George is the patron saint of England. In the familiar story, he is depicted as a noble knight who saved a town and princess from a dragon. In the epic battle he proved victorious only when he consecrated himself to the sign of the cross.
The story is not based on actual events, of course. Dragons don’t really exist for one thing! However, all the different roles represent real events but embellished to make them more exciting. St George was indeed a soldier; it is believed he lived at the end of the third century and was martyred at the start of the fourth. He came from a noble Christian house and quickly rose through the ranks to become part of the retinue of the Emperor Diocletian.
The dragon in the story is interchangeable as Emperor Diocletian and the Devil as in the latter years of the emperor’s reign he ordered the empire’s last, largest and bloodiest official persecution of Christianity; and so in the story the dragon begins to consume more and more of the town’s livestock and belongings. The princess represents the purity and truth of the Church; through St George’s epic struggle with the emperor, this truth and purity were not destroyed. Lastly, it was only through St George’s complete reliance on God’s grace, symbolised by him making the sign of the cross, that he was able to go through such a difficult challenge.
Defying the Emperor
The actual story is not known in its entirety but the basic outline is this: When the emperor decided to begin the persecution of Christians, he ordered all men of the army to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods and to begin rounding up the Christian communities. St George refused to go along with this order and with the courage of his faith, approached the Emperor and ruler. Diocletian was upset; he did not wish to lose his best tribune and the son of his best official, Gerontius. But George loudly renounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ.
Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods; he made many offers, but George never accepted. This enraged the emperor as not only did it allow more Christians to escape or go underground but St George’s defiance inspired both Christians and non-Christians alike as he was clearly willing to give up everything, including one of the most prestigious ranks in the army, for his faith and Church.
Saint George was later arrested, tortured and martyred but this only strengthened the witness he’d given. Many influential figures converted because of it, even though this led to their own martyrdom as well.