Skip to comments.St. George, Martyr, patron of England
Posted on 04/22/2009 3:21:32 PM PDT by Salvation
Martyr, patron of England, suffered at or near Lydda, also known as Diospolis, in Palestine, probably before the time of Constantine. According to the very careful investigation of the whole question recently instituted by Father Delehaye, the Bollandist, in the light of modern sources of information, the above statement sums up all that can safely be affirmed about St. George, despite his early cultus and pre-eminent renown both in East and West (see Delehaye, "Saints Militaires", 1909, pp. 45-76).
Earlier studies of the subject have generally been based upon an attempt to determine which of the various sets of legendary "Acts" was most likely to preserve traces of a primitive and authentic record. Delehaye rightly points out that the earliest narrative known to us, even though fragments of it may be read in a palimpsest of the fifth century, is full beyond belief of extravagances and of quite incredible marvels. Three times is George put to deathchopped into small pieces, buried deep in the earth and consumed by firebut each time he is resuscitated by the power of God. Besides this we have dead men brought to life to be baptized, wholesale conversions, including that of "the Empress Alexandra", armies and idols destroyed instantaneously, beams of timber suddenly bursting into leaf, and finally milk flowing instead of blood from the martyr's severed head. There is, it is true, a mitigated form of the story, which the older Bollandists have in a measure taken under their protection (see Act. SS., 23 Ap., no. 159). But even this abounds both in marvels and in historical contradictions, while modern critics, like Amelineau and Delehaye, though approaching the question from very different standpoints, are agreed in thinking that this mitigated version has been derived from the more extravagant by a process of elimination and rationalization, not vice versa. Remembering the unscrupulous freedom with which any wild story, even when pagan in origin, was appropriated by the early hagiographers to the honour of a popular saint (see, for example, the case of St. Procopius as detailed in Delehaye, "Legends", ch. v) we are fairly safe in assuming that the Acts of St. George, though ancient in date and preserved to us (with endless variations) in many different languages, afford absolutely no indication at all for arriving at the saint's authentic history. This, however, by no means implies that the martyr St. George never existed. An ancient cultus, going back to a very early epoch and connected with a definite locality, in itself constitutes a strong historical argument. Such we have in the case of St. George. The narratives of the early pilgrims, Theodosius, Antoninus, and Arculphus, from the sixth to the eighth century, all speak of Lydda or Diospolis as the seat of the veneration of St. George, and as the resting-place of his remains (Geyer, "Itinera Hierosol.", 139, 176, 288). The early date of the dedications to the saint is attested by existing inscriptions of ruined churches in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, and the church of St. George at Thessalonica is also considered by some authorities to belong to the fourth century. Further the famous decree "De Libris recipiendis", attributed to Pope Gelasius in 495, attests that certain apocryphal Acts of St. George were already in existence, but includes him among those saints "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are only known to God".
There seems, therefore, no ground for doubting the historical existence of St. George, even though he is not commemorated in the Syrian, or in the primitive Hieronymian Martyrologium, but no faith can be placed in the attempts that have been made to fill up any of the details of his history. For example, it is now generally admitted that St. George cannot safely be identified by the nameless martyr spoken of by Eusebius (Church History VIII.5), who tore down Diocletian's edict of persecution at Nicomedia. The version of the legend in which Diocletian appears as persecutor is not primitive. Diocletian is only a rationalized form of the name Dadianus. Moreover, the connection of the saint's name with Nicomedia is inconsistent with the early cultus at Diospolis.
Still less is St. George to be considered, as suggested by Gibbon, Vetter, and others, a legendary double of the disreputable bishop, George of Cappadocia, the Arian opponent of St. Athanasius. "This odious stranger", says Gibbon, in a famous passage, "disguising every circumstance of time and place, assumed the mask of a martyr, a saint, and a Christian hero, and the infamous George of Cappadocia has been transformed into the renowned St. George of England, the patron of arms, of chivalry, and of the Garter." "But this theory, says Professor Bury, Gibbon's latest editor, "has nothing to be said for it." The cultus of St. George is too ancient to allow of such an identification, though it is not improbable that the apocryphal Acts have borrowed some incidents from the story of the Arian bishop. Again, as Bury points out, "the connection of St. George with a dragon-slaying legend does not relegate him to the region of the myth, for over against the fabulous Christian dragon-slayer Theodore of the Bithynian Heraclaea, we can set Agapetus of Synnada and Arsacius, who though celebrated as dragon-slayers, were historical persons". This episode of the dragon is in fact a very late development, which cannot be traced further back than the twelfth or thirteenth century. It is found in the Golden Legend (Historia Lombardic of James de Voragine and to this circumstance it probably owes its wide diffusion. It may have been derived from an allegorization of the tyrant Diocletian or Dadianus, who is sometimes called a dragon (ho bythios drakon) in the older text, but despite the researches of Vetter (Reinbot von Durne, pp.lxxv-cix) the origin of the dragon story remains very obscure. In any case the late occurrence of this development refutes the attempts made to derive it from pagan sources. Hence it is certainly not true, as stated by Hartland, that in George's person "the Church has converted and baptized the pagan hero Perseus" (The Legend of Perseus, iii, 38). In the East, St. George (ho megalomartyr), has from the beginning been classed among the greatest of the martyrs. In the West also his cultus is very early. Apart from the ancient origin of St. George in Velabro at Rome, Clovis (c. 512) built a monastery at Baralle in his honour (Kurth, Clovis, II, 177). Arculphus and Adamnan probably made him well known in Britain early in the eighth century. His Acts were translated into Anglo-Saxon, and English churches were dedicated to him before the Norman Conquest, for example one at Doncaster, in 1061. The crusades no doubt added to his popularity. William of Malmesbury tells us that Saints George and Demetrius, "the martyr knights", were seen assisting the Franks at the battle of Antioch, 1098 (Gesta Regum, II, 420). It is conjectured, but not proved, that the "arms of St. George" (argent, a cross, gules) were introduced about the time of Richard Coeur de Lion. What is certain is that in 1284 in the official seal of Lyme Regis a ship is represented with a plain flag bearing a cross. The large red St. George's cross on a white ground remains still the "white ensign" of the British Navy and it is also one of the elements which go to make up the Union Jack. Anyway, in the fourteenth century, "St. George's arms" became a sort of uniform for English soldiers and sailors. We find, for example, in the wardrobe accounts of 1345-49, at the time of the battle of Crecy, that a charge is made for 86 penoncells of the arms of St. George intended for the king's ship, and for 800 others for the men-at-arms (Archaeologia, XXXI, 119). A little later, in the Ordinances of Richard II to the English army invading Scotland, every man is ordered to wear "a signe of the arms of St. George" both before and behind, while the pain of death is threatened against any of the enemy's soldiers "who do bear the same crosse or token of Saint George, even if they be prisoners". Somewhat earlier than this Edward III had founded (c. 1347) the Order of the Garter, an order of knighthood of which St. George was the principal patron. The chapel dedicated to St. George in Windsor Caste was built to be the official sanctuary of the order, and a badge or jewel of St. George slaying the dragon was adopted as part of the insignia. In this way the cross of St. George has in a manner become identified with the idea of knighthood, and even in Elizabeth's days, Spenser, at the beginning of his Faerie Queene, tells us of his hero, the Red Cross Knight:
But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore,
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And dead (as living) ever he adored.
We are told also that the hero thought continually of wreaking vengeance:
Upon his foe, a dragon horrible and stern.
Ecclesiastically speaking, St. George's day, 23 April, was ordered to be kept as a lesser holiday as early as 1222, in the national synod of Oxford. In 1415, the Constitution of Archbishop Chichele raised St. George's day to the rank of one of the greatest feasts and ordered it to be observed like Christmas day. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries St. George's day remained a holiday of obligation for English Catholics. Since 1778, it has been kept, like many of these older holidays, as a simple feast of devotion, though it ranks liturgically as a double of the first class with an octave.
The best known form of the legend of St. George and the Dragon is that made popular by the "Legenda Aurea", and translated into English by Caxton. According to this, a terrible dragon had ravaged all the country round a city of Libya, called Selena, making its lair in a marshy swamp. Its breath caused pestilence whenever it approached the town, so the people gave the monster two sheep every day to satisfy its hunger, but, when the sheep failed, a human victim was necessary and lots were drawn to determine the victim. On one occasion the lot fell to the king's little daughter. The king offered all his wealth to purchase a substitute, but the people had pledged themselves that no substitutes should be allowed, and so the maiden, dressed as a bride, was led to the marsh. There St. George chanced to ride by, and asked the maiden what she did, but she bade him leave her lest he also might perish. The good knight stayed, however, and, when the dragon appeared, St. George, making the sign of the cross, bravely attacked it and transfixed it with his lance. Then asking the maiden for her girdle (an incident in the story which may possibly have something to do with St. George's selection as patron of the Order of the Garter), he bound it round the neck of the monster, and thereupon the princess was able to lead it like a lamb. They then returned to the city, where St. George bade the people have no fear but only be baptized, after which he cut off the dragon's head and the townsfolk were all converted. The king would have given George half his kingdom, but the saint replied that he must ride on, bidding the king meanwhile take good care of God's churches, honour the clergy, and have pity on the poor. The earliest reference to any such episode in art is probably to be found in an old Roman tombstone at Conisborough in Yorkshire, considered to belong to the first half of the twelfth century. Here the princess is depicted as already in the dragon's clutches, while an abbot stands by and blesses the rescuer.
STEMMER in Kirchenlex., s.v.; DELEHAYE, Les légendes grecques des saints militaires (Paris, 1909), pp. 45-76; DELEHAYE, The Legends of the Saints (Eng. tr., London, 1907), pp. 190 and 212; STOKES in Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v. Georgius (43); MATZKE, Contributions to the History of St. George in Publications of the Modern Language Association (Baltimore, 902-3), XVII, 464-535 and XVIII, 99-171; GALTIER in Bulletin del' Institut français d'archéologie orientale (Paris, 1905), IV, 220: HUBER, Zur Georgslegende (Erlangen, 1906); STRZYGOWSKI, Der Koptische Reiterheilige und der heilige Georg (Leipzig, 1902); GORRES, Ritter St. Georg in Zeitschrift f. wiss. Theologie, XVI, pp. 454 sqq.; Act SS., 23 Apr.; DILLMANN, Apok. Märtyregeschichten in the Sitzungsberichte of the Berlin Academy, 1887; AMÉLINEAU, Les Actes des Martyrs de l'Eglise Copte (Paris, 1890); GUTSCHMID, Die Sage Vom H. Georg in the Berichte of the Saxon Academy, XIII (Leipzig, 1861); ZARNCKE, Passio S. Georgii in the Berichte of the Saxon Academy, XXVII (Leipzig, 1875); CLERMONT-GANNEAU, Horus et St. Georges in the Revue Archeologique, new series, XXXII, pp. 196-204 and 372-99; ZWIERZINA, Bemerkungen zur Georgius-Legende in Prager deutsche Studien (Prague, 1908), VIII, 1-10; DETLEFSEN in Sitzungsberichte K.K. Acad. (Vienna, 1858), XXVIII, 386-95; VETTER. Der heilige Georg des Reinbot von Durne (Halle, 1896); WALLIS BUDGE, The Martyrdom and Miracles of St. George, the Coptic texts and translation (London, 1888); THURSTON in The Month (April, 1892); FRIEDRICH, Der geschichtliche heilige Georg in the Vienna Sitxungsberichte, 1889, II, 159-203; VESELOVSKIJ in the Sbornik of the St. Petersburg Academy (1881), XXI, 172-89; ARNDT in the Berichte of the Academy of Saxony, XXVI, pp. 49-70 (Leipzig, 1874); on St. George in Art see especially: SCHARF, On a Votive Painting of St. George and the Dragon in Archaelogia, XLIX, pp. 243-300 (London, 1885); GORDON, St. George Champion of Christendom (London, 1907); BULLEY, St. George for Merrie England (London, 1908); on the Flag and Arms of St. George: CUMBERLAND, History of the Union Jack (London, 1901); GREEN, The Union Jack (London, 1903).
APA citation. (1909). St. George. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 22, 2009 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06453a.htm
MLA citation. "St. George." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 22 Apr. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06453a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to his father Tom Barrett.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
“Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!!’”
Greek - Icon
16th Century from personal collection
O God, Who dost gladden us by the merits and intercesion of Blessed George, Thy Martyr, mercifully grant that we, who ask Thy blessings through him, may obtain them by the gift of Thy grace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in Unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.
(Prayer from Saint Joseph Missal, 1950, Catholic Book Publishing)
hear the prayers of those who praise Your mighty power.
As Saint George was ready to follow Christ in suffernig and death,
so may he be ready to help us in our weakness.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
Readings of the Day:
First Reading - Revelation 21:5-7
And He who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also He said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." And He said to me,"It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be My son."
Gospel Reading - Luke 9:23-26
And He[Jesus] said to all, "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
[Scripture translation - Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition]
Saint George, A Patron of Chivalry
by Joanna Bogle
We need a patron of chivalry, a hero saint who will show us an example of how to defend the Church, protect the poor and vulnerable, and meet martyrdom with courage. In these days when being an active and committed Catholic means standing against many of the everyday ideas and assumptions prevalent in our communities, we need a champion of personal valour, of standing up to be counted, a person who will show us what it is to exert true Christian leadership.
Enter Saint George. He was a soldier in the early years of the 4th century, serving in the Roman Army. His ruler was the Emperor Diocletian. George was a Tribune -- a rank about equivalent to today's Colonel. He was also a Christian, and, for several years, this apparently posed no problem. At this point there were several Christian communities within the Roman world. Christians were beginning to make their influence felt and as they were good citizens, honest, trustworthy, and loyal, they were more than tolerated by the Empires rulers.
But Diocletian grew envious. Where once he had been content with the loyalty of his subjects in temporal matters, now he wanted more. He sought the loyalty of their minds and souls. When this was not forthcoming, he grew savage. An edict against Christians was drawn up and copies posted in public places. George, as a leading citizen, took responsibility for tearing down the one in his locality -- an open act of defiance against an unjust law. He was arrested, tortured, and eventually martyred. He died on April 23rd, 404, which that year happened to be Good Friday. It is said that red roses bloomed on his grave.
All these events took place in the territory we today call the Middle East, then part of the Roman Empire. The story of George's valor spread across the Christian world. We know that there were churches in Europe dedicated to him at an early date, including a couple in Britain, the land where he was later to become a popular saint. But what really made him famous were the events of several centuries later -- the Crusades. English soldiers fighting in the Middle East learned about this soldier-saint and were impressed. His courage spoke to them. He was one of their own. This was a saint they could value and understand.
They took back his story to England -- as other soldiers were taking it back to their lands across what was then Christendom. His story became identified with their own -- the red cross on a white background that marked the crusader.
In England, Saint George became patron saint of an order of chivalry -- the Order of the Garter. To this day, this is still conferred by the Sovereign in honor of God, Our Lady, and Saint George on those deemed to have served their country in some outstanding way.
Catholics in England have long honored Saint George. As with other saints, he was somewhat downplayed at the Reformation. But English Catholics continued to honor him. They were persecuted for their faith for years after the Reformation and unable to attend Mass openly or teach their Faith publicly to their children. No wonder a hero martyr saint appealed to them.
When, finally, some freedom was granted, one of the first Catholic churches to be built in London was dedicated to Saint George. Today, its successor still stands in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames -- Saint George's Cathedral. It has seen many major events -- from a tragic bombing in 1941, which destroyed the original Pugin building (the cathedral was rebuilt in the 1950s) to a Papal visit in 1982 when Pope John Paul II met and blessed thousands of sick people who had been gathered there to greet him in a massive national pilgrimage.
Saint George's continues to thrive: it now serves a very multi-racial area, and its liturgy includes a robed choir who sing a beautiful Latin Mass each Sunday, which is well attended by a mixed congregation proud of their church and of their Faith.
This year, a team of Catholic publishers and representatives from major Catholic organizations from across Britain will be holding a national Catholic Book Fair on the Saturday nearest to Saint George's Day as part of the Saint George's Day celebrations.
We need Saint George today. We need his example of courage. Legend says he slew a dragon -- or, in some versions of the story, that he tamed it and brought it to the service of the Christian community. In this latter version, the dragon is seen as the pagan Roman Empire, which eventually came to be subdued by the Church.
Saint George was a manly saint -- a hero, a soldier, someone who knew he must use his strength and courage in the service of what is right. A martyr's life is a paradox: through death he brings life to the Church. What seems to be a failure ends in glory. Because of Saint George's sacrifice, the Faith survived to be passed on to countless people in lands he never even knew existed. If we met him today -- if our young Christian men, who so badly need heroes, met him -- we would know that we shared the same Catholic Faith and in the Sign of the Cross we would be in unity. May we beg through his intercession in Heaven that we may have something of his courage.
Saint George, pray for us!
from A Book of Feasts and Seasons, by Joanna Bogle
Saint George's Day - How to set the table
Use a white sheet as a tablecloth. Across it stretch two lengths of crimson ribbon to form a Saint George's Cross. The ends of the ribbon should be cut into inverted V's -- this looks neat and helps prevent fraying. The ribbon can be pinned to the cloth -- this keeps the arrangement looking nice all through the meal and it is quite easy to do it in such a way that the pins don't show. A red rose -- you can now buy very attractive linen or silk ones at very little cost -- should be placed at the center of the cross. Use red candles.
Saint George's Day - Trifle for Saint George's Day
Serves six -- multiply the amounts as needed.
a dozen sponge fingers
six tablespoons raspberry jam
one packet of raspberry jelly
one tin raspberries
one pint custard
half a pint whipped cream
glacé cherries to decorate
Make up the custard first and allow it to get cold. Make up the raspberry jelly as directed on the packet, but use ice cubes instead of cold water as this makes it set far more quickly. It more or less sets as the ice cubes melt. Spread the sponge fingers with jam and put them in a large glass bowl. Pour sherry generously over them. Drain the raspberries and put these on top. Pour the jelly over these and leave it all to set. Then add the custard on top. Decorate the top of the trifle by covering it thickly with whipped cream and putting cherries on it. Do not add any other decorations: the theme for St. George's Day is Red and white. A wide velvet ribbon tied around the bowl looks nice.
Joanna Bogle is a Catholic writer and journalist living in London. She is a member of the Women for Faith and Family Editorial Board. Joanna broadcasts with the BBC and with Mother Angelica's EWTN radio, on which she has a "Catholic Heritage" series featuring places of pilgrimage and of historic interest in Europe. She is active with the Association of Catholic Women and with pro-life movements in Britain.
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