Good George’s Day

Susan here – on a holiday weekend, with lots of family around, lots going on and not a lot of time, so a quick posting today, an older blog refreshed and appropriate to the end of this week, when St. George's Day will be here again! OK, so not quite a holiday here in the States, but an interesting day marked in the UK, and St. George has a special place in my heart, detailed below. 

When in April the sweet showers fall, that pierce March's drought to the root and all …
— Chaucer

EeyoreApril is a month particularly filled with holidays and days of note – April Fool's Day, April 15 – Tax Day, and this particular April, Passover and Easter as well. There's also National Library Week, Earth Day, Arbor Day, Shakespeare's Birthday, believed by some to be April 23 (Talk like Shakespeare Day is April 23 – same as St. George's Day), and – April 30, Eeyore's Birthday!  

"May I come in, St. George?" said the Boy politely, as he paused at the door. "I want to talk to you about this little matter of the dragon, if you're not too tired of it by this time." — Kenneth Grahame, The Reluctant Dragon

April 23 is Saint George’s Day in England, where he has long been regarded as England’s chivalric patron, synonymous not only with dragon-slaying but chivalry as well. St. George_BYZ
How did an ancient martyr of the Church (who never saw a dragon in his life) become the most recognized symbol of chivalry and knighthood in England and nearly anywhere? I tracked that question with others in my art history doctoral dissertation years back, when I studied the images and iconography of the hero in English medieval art — St. George being the best known of an interesting collection of military saints and dragon-slayers. Images and mementos of knights and dragons still decorate my home and office, and the research for that project taught me a lot about the nature and character of the hero archetype…which came in handy for writing novels.

Donatello-stgeorgeThe original George was a 4th century Christian martyr in central Turkey, most probably a soldier who served under Emperor Diocletian. George defended his religion and suffered the consequences, for he was arrested, dragged by horses and beheaded (among other gruesome tortures); documents in the Vatican apparently referring to his death are dated 23 April, 303; that became his feast day. There were other military saints, like Julian and Mercurius (and the Archangel Michael, in a class by himself), but St. George rose to fame after he supposedly appeared in the sky over a crusading French army and saved the day.

The story spread and grew, and before long his legend was conflated with other myths, such as Perseus and Andromeda, and other slayers of monsters/rescuers of damsels. In England his feats became connected with pagan rites of the cycle of birth, growth and resurrection—and the dragon-slayer so venerated in medieval England was born.

St g dragon van der weydenHis image is well known even to us today, and he is depicted in countless examples of medieval art. His cult grew by leaps and bounds as chivalry gained deep footing in medieval society. He was declared patron saint of the famed Order of the Garter in 1348, and his red cross on a white ground was Prince Wm Order Garterincluded in countless heraldic emblems; later it was incorporated into the British Union Jack. By the time St. George appeared in the wildly popular Golden Legend, a collection of saints’ tales, his fame was assured.

As knighthood and chivalry flourished, George—being a saint, after all—served as the pinnacle of those ideals. He exhibited all the best qualities of chivalric behavior, especially toward women — he was polite, considerate, and romantic yet chaste (our ideas of chivalric heroes have changed some by now, ahem). Partnered with the Virgin Mary in art and or with the princess saved from the dragon in literature, George was the perfect medieval knight, revered, prayed to, emulated.

450px-Saint_George_and_the_Dragon_alabaster_sculpture“St. George the English knight/Over your ffomen geve you myghte” went a popular English prayer, and “St. George!” was a common war cry; the French response, particularly during the Hundred Years War, went something like “It would stick in my throat if I cried ‘St. George,’ because I’m a good Frenchman.” So fans of St. George took political sides, too.

Chivalry_DickseeAs for dragon-slaying and chivalric behaviors, George was not the first, but he was the best known—the mythic type of the dragon-slayer so familiar to us today owes a great deal to the storytellers who embellished his story over the years. In parts of England every April 23, while the holiday isn’t a big deal anymore, there are mock dragon-fights by reenactors and kids line up to take a whack at paper dragons with a lance to rescue the princess.

Chivalry isn’t dead by a long shot, not in stories at least, and St. George and his myths helped foster and keep that alive for a very long time – until romance writers mustered forces to carry on the tradition of great Dragon book of hoursromantic, chivalric heroes!       

What heroes do you particularly love who are dragon-slayers, real and figurative, in myths, books and movies? Happy St. George's Day! May the dragons in your life always be strong yet cuddly, generous and protective — and may the same go for your heroes!

~Susan

20 thoughts on “Good George’s Day”

  1. Bard the Bowman, of course 🙂 Whenever I feel annoyed at the world and existence, I pull out The Hobbit or LOTR and am in that world again, where heroes act like heroes and dragons act like dragons 🙂

    Reply
  2. Bard the Bowman, of course 🙂 Whenever I feel annoyed at the world and existence, I pull out The Hobbit or LOTR and am in that world again, where heroes act like heroes and dragons act like dragons 🙂

    Reply
  3. Bard the Bowman, of course 🙂 Whenever I feel annoyed at the world and existence, I pull out The Hobbit or LOTR and am in that world again, where heroes act like heroes and dragons act like dragons 🙂

    Reply
  4. Bard the Bowman, of course 🙂 Whenever I feel annoyed at the world and existence, I pull out The Hobbit or LOTR and am in that world again, where heroes act like heroes and dragons act like dragons 🙂

    Reply
  5. Bard the Bowman, of course 🙂 Whenever I feel annoyed at the world and existence, I pull out The Hobbit or LOTR and am in that world again, where heroes act like heroes and dragons act like dragons 🙂

    Reply
  6. The St George Cross is also the flag of Georgia (the country, not the US state 🙂 ), and he’s patron saint of a bunch of places – and it’s the name of a major bank here in Australia (their mascot is a dragon – what a surprise!). He was EVERYWHERE in the medieval art galleries in Verona when I visited earlier this year. His looks change depending on what I guess was considered appealing in that era.
    He’s one saint I can kind of get behind. Most of them are depicted suffering the most horrific torture; I’d much rather look at a gallery full of St George and his dragon paintings (with rescued damsel occasionally popping up) than a gazillion paintings of someone being skewered!

    Reply
  7. The St George Cross is also the flag of Georgia (the country, not the US state 🙂 ), and he’s patron saint of a bunch of places – and it’s the name of a major bank here in Australia (their mascot is a dragon – what a surprise!). He was EVERYWHERE in the medieval art galleries in Verona when I visited earlier this year. His looks change depending on what I guess was considered appealing in that era.
    He’s one saint I can kind of get behind. Most of them are depicted suffering the most horrific torture; I’d much rather look at a gallery full of St George and his dragon paintings (with rescued damsel occasionally popping up) than a gazillion paintings of someone being skewered!

    Reply
  8. The St George Cross is also the flag of Georgia (the country, not the US state 🙂 ), and he’s patron saint of a bunch of places – and it’s the name of a major bank here in Australia (their mascot is a dragon – what a surprise!). He was EVERYWHERE in the medieval art galleries in Verona when I visited earlier this year. His looks change depending on what I guess was considered appealing in that era.
    He’s one saint I can kind of get behind. Most of them are depicted suffering the most horrific torture; I’d much rather look at a gallery full of St George and his dragon paintings (with rescued damsel occasionally popping up) than a gazillion paintings of someone being skewered!

    Reply
  9. The St George Cross is also the flag of Georgia (the country, not the US state 🙂 ), and he’s patron saint of a bunch of places – and it’s the name of a major bank here in Australia (their mascot is a dragon – what a surprise!). He was EVERYWHERE in the medieval art galleries in Verona when I visited earlier this year. His looks change depending on what I guess was considered appealing in that era.
    He’s one saint I can kind of get behind. Most of them are depicted suffering the most horrific torture; I’d much rather look at a gallery full of St George and his dragon paintings (with rescued damsel occasionally popping up) than a gazillion paintings of someone being skewered!

    Reply
  10. The St George Cross is also the flag of Georgia (the country, not the US state 🙂 ), and he’s patron saint of a bunch of places – and it’s the name of a major bank here in Australia (their mascot is a dragon – what a surprise!). He was EVERYWHERE in the medieval art galleries in Verona when I visited earlier this year. His looks change depending on what I guess was considered appealing in that era.
    He’s one saint I can kind of get behind. Most of them are depicted suffering the most horrific torture; I’d much rather look at a gallery full of St George and his dragon paintings (with rescued damsel occasionally popping up) than a gazillion paintings of someone being skewered!

    Reply
  11. Thanks for telling us about St. George’s day (and about the true St. George).
    I was taken by surprise by your question, though> I guess I don’t “believe” in dragon-slayers.I do believe in “dragons” — and romance of any type is full of them; my dragons are the
    women who are the center of the universe to the detriment and even the harm of the rest
    of the people in their world. (We have several women of that type in our real-life families, so
    having them defeated in fiction is always satisfying.) But, in fiction, as well in real life, these
    dragons are defeated by a group, and a managed set of dragons. So, to me, the dragon-
    slayer appears not to exist.
    It’s surprising what I find out about myself, while reading these posts.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for telling us about St. George’s day (and about the true St. George).
    I was taken by surprise by your question, though> I guess I don’t “believe” in dragon-slayers.I do believe in “dragons” — and romance of any type is full of them; my dragons are the
    women who are the center of the universe to the detriment and even the harm of the rest
    of the people in their world. (We have several women of that type in our real-life families, so
    having them defeated in fiction is always satisfying.) But, in fiction, as well in real life, these
    dragons are defeated by a group, and a managed set of dragons. So, to me, the dragon-
    slayer appears not to exist.
    It’s surprising what I find out about myself, while reading these posts.

    Reply
  13. Thanks for telling us about St. George’s day (and about the true St. George).
    I was taken by surprise by your question, though> I guess I don’t “believe” in dragon-slayers.I do believe in “dragons” — and romance of any type is full of them; my dragons are the
    women who are the center of the universe to the detriment and even the harm of the rest
    of the people in their world. (We have several women of that type in our real-life families, so
    having them defeated in fiction is always satisfying.) But, in fiction, as well in real life, these
    dragons are defeated by a group, and a managed set of dragons. So, to me, the dragon-
    slayer appears not to exist.
    It’s surprising what I find out about myself, while reading these posts.

    Reply
  14. Thanks for telling us about St. George’s day (and about the true St. George).
    I was taken by surprise by your question, though> I guess I don’t “believe” in dragon-slayers.I do believe in “dragons” — and romance of any type is full of them; my dragons are the
    women who are the center of the universe to the detriment and even the harm of the rest
    of the people in their world. (We have several women of that type in our real-life families, so
    having them defeated in fiction is always satisfying.) But, in fiction, as well in real life, these
    dragons are defeated by a group, and a managed set of dragons. So, to me, the dragon-
    slayer appears not to exist.
    It’s surprising what I find out about myself, while reading these posts.

    Reply
  15. Thanks for telling us about St. George’s day (and about the true St. George).
    I was taken by surprise by your question, though> I guess I don’t “believe” in dragon-slayers.I do believe in “dragons” — and romance of any type is full of them; my dragons are the
    women who are the center of the universe to the detriment and even the harm of the rest
    of the people in their world. (We have several women of that type in our real-life families, so
    having them defeated in fiction is always satisfying.) But, in fiction, as well in real life, these
    dragons are defeated by a group, and a managed set of dragons. So, to me, the dragon-
    slayer appears not to exist.
    It’s surprising what I find out about myself, while reading these posts.

    Reply
  16. Well, you have opened my eyes. My birthday is April 23rd. Up until today, I thought it was just me and Shakespeare, Shirley Temple and Adolf Hitler….I always thought I should be a really mean tap dancer who could write a little bit. But, now I know I have a patron saint who was able to slay dragons and save damsels.
    This past week has been a difficult one for me, and knowing that somewhere in the atmosphere there is a dragon slayer means more than you can imagine.
    I believe that the true dragon slayers are the people who are working to stop cancer. I know there are people who create what they hope to be the solutions and others who are willing to put themselves in harms way to test those solutions.
    I also believe there are true dragon slayers who try to save children. In my country and every country in the world there are men and women who are working to provide children with safe places to live and learn and grow.
    We are blessed, because we live in a world where there are dragon slayers who surround us. In large and small ways they are working to bring light to darkness.

    Reply
  17. Well, you have opened my eyes. My birthday is April 23rd. Up until today, I thought it was just me and Shakespeare, Shirley Temple and Adolf Hitler….I always thought I should be a really mean tap dancer who could write a little bit. But, now I know I have a patron saint who was able to slay dragons and save damsels.
    This past week has been a difficult one for me, and knowing that somewhere in the atmosphere there is a dragon slayer means more than you can imagine.
    I believe that the true dragon slayers are the people who are working to stop cancer. I know there are people who create what they hope to be the solutions and others who are willing to put themselves in harms way to test those solutions.
    I also believe there are true dragon slayers who try to save children. In my country and every country in the world there are men and women who are working to provide children with safe places to live and learn and grow.
    We are blessed, because we live in a world where there are dragon slayers who surround us. In large and small ways they are working to bring light to darkness.

    Reply
  18. Well, you have opened my eyes. My birthday is April 23rd. Up until today, I thought it was just me and Shakespeare, Shirley Temple and Adolf Hitler….I always thought I should be a really mean tap dancer who could write a little bit. But, now I know I have a patron saint who was able to slay dragons and save damsels.
    This past week has been a difficult one for me, and knowing that somewhere in the atmosphere there is a dragon slayer means more than you can imagine.
    I believe that the true dragon slayers are the people who are working to stop cancer. I know there are people who create what they hope to be the solutions and others who are willing to put themselves in harms way to test those solutions.
    I also believe there are true dragon slayers who try to save children. In my country and every country in the world there are men and women who are working to provide children with safe places to live and learn and grow.
    We are blessed, because we live in a world where there are dragon slayers who surround us. In large and small ways they are working to bring light to darkness.

    Reply
  19. Well, you have opened my eyes. My birthday is April 23rd. Up until today, I thought it was just me and Shakespeare, Shirley Temple and Adolf Hitler….I always thought I should be a really mean tap dancer who could write a little bit. But, now I know I have a patron saint who was able to slay dragons and save damsels.
    This past week has been a difficult one for me, and knowing that somewhere in the atmosphere there is a dragon slayer means more than you can imagine.
    I believe that the true dragon slayers are the people who are working to stop cancer. I know there are people who create what they hope to be the solutions and others who are willing to put themselves in harms way to test those solutions.
    I also believe there are true dragon slayers who try to save children. In my country and every country in the world there are men and women who are working to provide children with safe places to live and learn and grow.
    We are blessed, because we live in a world where there are dragon slayers who surround us. In large and small ways they are working to bring light to darkness.

    Reply
  20. Well, you have opened my eyes. My birthday is April 23rd. Up until today, I thought it was just me and Shakespeare, Shirley Temple and Adolf Hitler….I always thought I should be a really mean tap dancer who could write a little bit. But, now I know I have a patron saint who was able to slay dragons and save damsels.
    This past week has been a difficult one for me, and knowing that somewhere in the atmosphere there is a dragon slayer means more than you can imagine.
    I believe that the true dragon slayers are the people who are working to stop cancer. I know there are people who create what they hope to be the solutions and others who are willing to put themselves in harms way to test those solutions.
    I also believe there are true dragon slayers who try to save children. In my country and every country in the world there are men and women who are working to provide children with safe places to live and learn and grow.
    We are blessed, because we live in a world where there are dragon slayers who surround us. In large and small ways they are working to bring light to darkness.

    Reply

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