On Good St. George’s Day

Reluctant dragon
"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 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 mementoes of knights and dragons still decorate my home and office, and the research for that project taught me a lot about the nature of the hero, which came in handy once I started writing novels.

Donatello-stgeorge The 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 Garter
included 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_Dicksee As 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 romantic, 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!
Gund_dragon_fafner

~Susan

50 thoughts on “On Good St. George’s Day”

  1. Thank you for the information of St George. It has answered a question my son and I have wondered about for some time as here in southern Tasmania there is a Greek Orthadox church of St. George. We have idly wondered what St George had to do with Greece, believing he was English. I now know he came from Turkey which was possibly linked with the Greece of that time. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for the information of St George. It has answered a question my son and I have wondered about for some time as here in southern Tasmania there is a Greek Orthadox church of St. George. We have idly wondered what St George had to do with Greece, believing he was English. I now know he came from Turkey which was possibly linked with the Greece of that time. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for the information of St George. It has answered a question my son and I have wondered about for some time as here in southern Tasmania there is a Greek Orthadox church of St. George. We have idly wondered what St George had to do with Greece, believing he was English. I now know he came from Turkey which was possibly linked with the Greece of that time. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Thank you for the information of St George. It has answered a question my son and I have wondered about for some time as here in southern Tasmania there is a Greek Orthadox church of St. George. We have idly wondered what St George had to do with Greece, believing he was English. I now know he came from Turkey which was possibly linked with the Greece of that time. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Thank you for the information of St George. It has answered a question my son and I have wondered about for some time as here in southern Tasmania there is a Greek Orthadox church of St. George. We have idly wondered what St George had to do with Greece, believing he was English. I now know he came from Turkey which was possibly linked with the Greece of that time. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Thank you for a great post, Susan, and for the St George’s Day wishes. Here in Oxfordshire there is a tradition that St George killed the dragon at Uffington, just down the road fron where I live. We have Dragon Hill to “prove” it! I have just posted on my personal blog http://www.apassionforhistory.blogspot.com a piece about the possibility of the White Horse being a representation of a dragon!

    Reply
  7. Thank you for a great post, Susan, and for the St George’s Day wishes. Here in Oxfordshire there is a tradition that St George killed the dragon at Uffington, just down the road fron where I live. We have Dragon Hill to “prove” it! I have just posted on my personal blog http://www.apassionforhistory.blogspot.com a piece about the possibility of the White Horse being a representation of a dragon!

    Reply
  8. Thank you for a great post, Susan, and for the St George’s Day wishes. Here in Oxfordshire there is a tradition that St George killed the dragon at Uffington, just down the road fron where I live. We have Dragon Hill to “prove” it! I have just posted on my personal blog http://www.apassionforhistory.blogspot.com a piece about the possibility of the White Horse being a representation of a dragon!

    Reply
  9. Thank you for a great post, Susan, and for the St George’s Day wishes. Here in Oxfordshire there is a tradition that St George killed the dragon at Uffington, just down the road fron where I live. We have Dragon Hill to “prove” it! I have just posted on my personal blog http://www.apassionforhistory.blogspot.com a piece about the possibility of the White Horse being a representation of a dragon!

    Reply
  10. Thank you for a great post, Susan, and for the St George’s Day wishes. Here in Oxfordshire there is a tradition that St George killed the dragon at Uffington, just down the road fron where I live. We have Dragon Hill to “prove” it! I have just posted on my personal blog http://www.apassionforhistory.blogspot.com a piece about the possibility of the White Horse being a representation of a dragon!

    Reply
  11. Thanks for the interesting info. My favorite “dragon” slayers are still my dad & big brother. They were my first “heroes”. Many a monster did they chase away for me when I was quite young – although sometimes my brother was a bit of one himself 😉

    Reply
  12. Thanks for the interesting info. My favorite “dragon” slayers are still my dad & big brother. They were my first “heroes”. Many a monster did they chase away for me when I was quite young – although sometimes my brother was a bit of one himself 😉

    Reply
  13. Thanks for the interesting info. My favorite “dragon” slayers are still my dad & big brother. They were my first “heroes”. Many a monster did they chase away for me when I was quite young – although sometimes my brother was a bit of one himself 😉

    Reply
  14. Thanks for the interesting info. My favorite “dragon” slayers are still my dad & big brother. They were my first “heroes”. Many a monster did they chase away for me when I was quite young – although sometimes my brother was a bit of one himself 😉

    Reply
  15. Thanks for the interesting info. My favorite “dragon” slayers are still my dad & big brother. They were my first “heroes”. Many a monster did they chase away for me when I was quite young – although sometimes my brother was a bit of one himself 😉

    Reply
  16. Dragons ROCK! I have several little ones scattered around my office as well. In the spirit of modern romance, the one dragon I wrote was in a novel and was heroic. *g*
    But a fun fictional hero who is a literal dragon slayer is Oscar Smith in Robert Heinlein’s GLORY ROAD. He is learning the hero trade as a form of conditioning for saving the universe. Great fun.

    Reply
  17. Dragons ROCK! I have several little ones scattered around my office as well. In the spirit of modern romance, the one dragon I wrote was in a novel and was heroic. *g*
    But a fun fictional hero who is a literal dragon slayer is Oscar Smith in Robert Heinlein’s GLORY ROAD. He is learning the hero trade as a form of conditioning for saving the universe. Great fun.

    Reply
  18. Dragons ROCK! I have several little ones scattered around my office as well. In the spirit of modern romance, the one dragon I wrote was in a novel and was heroic. *g*
    But a fun fictional hero who is a literal dragon slayer is Oscar Smith in Robert Heinlein’s GLORY ROAD. He is learning the hero trade as a form of conditioning for saving the universe. Great fun.

    Reply
  19. Dragons ROCK! I have several little ones scattered around my office as well. In the spirit of modern romance, the one dragon I wrote was in a novel and was heroic. *g*
    But a fun fictional hero who is a literal dragon slayer is Oscar Smith in Robert Heinlein’s GLORY ROAD. He is learning the hero trade as a form of conditioning for saving the universe. Great fun.

    Reply
  20. Dragons ROCK! I have several little ones scattered around my office as well. In the spirit of modern romance, the one dragon I wrote was in a novel and was heroic. *g*
    But a fun fictional hero who is a literal dragon slayer is Oscar Smith in Robert Heinlein’s GLORY ROAD. He is learning the hero trade as a form of conditioning for saving the universe. Great fun.

    Reply
  21. My favorite dragon slayer is the guy who shot the arrow that downed the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, though I kinda liked Smaug for his honesty and straightforwardness. Maybe Tolkien liked him too since he didn’t have Bilbo or one of the Company do the deed.

    Reply
  22. My favorite dragon slayer is the guy who shot the arrow that downed the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, though I kinda liked Smaug for his honesty and straightforwardness. Maybe Tolkien liked him too since he didn’t have Bilbo or one of the Company do the deed.

    Reply
  23. My favorite dragon slayer is the guy who shot the arrow that downed the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, though I kinda liked Smaug for his honesty and straightforwardness. Maybe Tolkien liked him too since he didn’t have Bilbo or one of the Company do the deed.

    Reply
  24. My favorite dragon slayer is the guy who shot the arrow that downed the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, though I kinda liked Smaug for his honesty and straightforwardness. Maybe Tolkien liked him too since he didn’t have Bilbo or one of the Company do the deed.

    Reply
  25. My favorite dragon slayer is the guy who shot the arrow that downed the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, though I kinda liked Smaug for his honesty and straightforwardness. Maybe Tolkien liked him too since he didn’t have Bilbo or one of the Company do the deed.

    Reply
  26. With 3 in our family born in the year of the Dragon, we love them! My daughter has several dragons on a web site called Dragon Adopters!Check it out, it is a fun site. My favorite dragon story is the movie, Dragon Heart, starring Sean Connery & Dennis Quaid. A knight, dragon slayer (with a twist)& a wonderful dragon! Thank you for the info on St. George. Interesting how stories evolve.

    Reply
  27. With 3 in our family born in the year of the Dragon, we love them! My daughter has several dragons on a web site called Dragon Adopters!Check it out, it is a fun site. My favorite dragon story is the movie, Dragon Heart, starring Sean Connery & Dennis Quaid. A knight, dragon slayer (with a twist)& a wonderful dragon! Thank you for the info on St. George. Interesting how stories evolve.

    Reply
  28. With 3 in our family born in the year of the Dragon, we love them! My daughter has several dragons on a web site called Dragon Adopters!Check it out, it is a fun site. My favorite dragon story is the movie, Dragon Heart, starring Sean Connery & Dennis Quaid. A knight, dragon slayer (with a twist)& a wonderful dragon! Thank you for the info on St. George. Interesting how stories evolve.

    Reply
  29. With 3 in our family born in the year of the Dragon, we love them! My daughter has several dragons on a web site called Dragon Adopters!Check it out, it is a fun site. My favorite dragon story is the movie, Dragon Heart, starring Sean Connery & Dennis Quaid. A knight, dragon slayer (with a twist)& a wonderful dragon! Thank you for the info on St. George. Interesting how stories evolve.

    Reply
  30. With 3 in our family born in the year of the Dragon, we love them! My daughter has several dragons on a web site called Dragon Adopters!Check it out, it is a fun site. My favorite dragon story is the movie, Dragon Heart, starring Sean Connery & Dennis Quaid. A knight, dragon slayer (with a twist)& a wonderful dragon! Thank you for the info on St. George. Interesting how stories evolve.

    Reply
  31. Thanks for the St. George’s Day greeting. I know that in England they are trying to make more of “their” day and I think it’s a great idea. It also happens to be Shakespeare’s birthday so well worth celebrating I think!

    Reply
  32. Thanks for the St. George’s Day greeting. I know that in England they are trying to make more of “their” day and I think it’s a great idea. It also happens to be Shakespeare’s birthday so well worth celebrating I think!

    Reply
  33. Thanks for the St. George’s Day greeting. I know that in England they are trying to make more of “their” day and I think it’s a great idea. It also happens to be Shakespeare’s birthday so well worth celebrating I think!

    Reply
  34. Thanks for the St. George’s Day greeting. I know that in England they are trying to make more of “their” day and I think it’s a great idea. It also happens to be Shakespeare’s birthday so well worth celebrating I think!

    Reply
  35. Thanks for the St. George’s Day greeting. I know that in England they are trying to make more of “their” day and I think it’s a great idea. It also happens to be Shakespeare’s birthday so well worth celebrating I think!

    Reply
  36. My favorite dragon slayer doesn’t kill them he rides one. C. Paolini’s ERAGON series does a great job of depicting a good working relationship between rider/warrior and dragon. It is a fight between good and evil and dragons & warriors are on both sides. In this case, there are some human dragons to be slain.

    Reply
  37. My favorite dragon slayer doesn’t kill them he rides one. C. Paolini’s ERAGON series does a great job of depicting a good working relationship between rider/warrior and dragon. It is a fight between good and evil and dragons & warriors are on both sides. In this case, there are some human dragons to be slain.

    Reply
  38. My favorite dragon slayer doesn’t kill them he rides one. C. Paolini’s ERAGON series does a great job of depicting a good working relationship between rider/warrior and dragon. It is a fight between good and evil and dragons & warriors are on both sides. In this case, there are some human dragons to be slain.

    Reply
  39. My favorite dragon slayer doesn’t kill them he rides one. C. Paolini’s ERAGON series does a great job of depicting a good working relationship between rider/warrior and dragon. It is a fight between good and evil and dragons & warriors are on both sides. In this case, there are some human dragons to be slain.

    Reply
  40. My favorite dragon slayer doesn’t kill them he rides one. C. Paolini’s ERAGON series does a great job of depicting a good working relationship between rider/warrior and dragon. It is a fight between good and evil and dragons & warriors are on both sides. In this case, there are some human dragons to be slain.

    Reply

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