St. George the Legendary Martyr
In Selena, Libya, there was a lake that was inhabited by a fierce and ravenous dragon. To appease this terrifying dragon, the townspeople would feed it sheep, yet after some time the sheep would not do as the dragon became hungry for human flesh. Through a lottery process, children would be chosen as a sacrifice to this dragon until one day the king’s own daughter was selected. George, by providence, rode past the gruesome scene of the trembling princess waiting to be devoured. As the princess unsuccessfully beseeched George to leave her be, the dragon appeared in all of its demonic grandeur. George then made the Sign of the Cross and leaped upon the winged-worm, crying to the princess to give him her sash. George tied the sash around the dragon and it obeyed him with a pet-like submission. Leading the dragon back to the town, George behooved its citizens to convert to Catholicism and he would slay the dragon. Fifteen thousand men converted that day and George fulfilled his promise by way of his famous sword, Ascalon, slitting the fowl throat of the terror.
Or so the legend goes…
St. George has been a man of many names: hero, martyr, saint, patron, legend, soldier, knight. While the legend may bend the truth in many aspects, the Catholic Church holds that there seems no ground for doubting the historical existence of St. George. However, what we know as fact or fiction leaves room for debate. What we do know is that this man was someone who left a deeply stowed impression of knighthood and bravery. Oftentimes he is known as the icon of the knight. Bravery, truthfulness, and gallantry seem to radiate from his legend. There are many historical figures to whom history has tried and failed to attach the person of St. George. Many refer to Eusebius and his historical fight with Diocletian. However, there is little factual evidence to back that link.
Eastern and Western Catholics admire him, Protestants adore him, Muslims respect him, and countless battles have been fought with him in mind. Winston Churchill used the name Ascalon for his personal aircraft during World War 2. What can be presumed from this renowned figure is that he has left a lasting impact upon culture, religion, and societies at large. St. George’s iconic Red Cross is flown around the world by countries who consider him their patron. I believe that there are two main reasons that explain his glorious array of followers. One is that his status leaves much to the human imagination, which is both powerful and exotic. The other is that, while he may have been an earthly hero, his main desire was to save souls and bring them into unity with the Catholic Church.
Stories and legends have the innate, exceptional ability to draw in the soul of the listener. Tales of bravery and audacious love sticks with a person for a lifetime, or in St. George’s case, generations upon generations. The story of St. George and the dragon might be fictitious in nature, but when it comes to practical evangelization through Christian doctrine, it has proven quite reliable. When grown men going to war are just as fascinated by the saint as children still afraid of the dark, his sanctity has upheld its effectiveness. You cannot have George without the Cross; therefore, when the myth is unrelentingly spread through culture by way of faith and admiration, the legend suitably introduces Christ as well. Perhaps the English, who are historically entrenched in myths and folktales spanning the Norse mythologies into the legend of King Arthur, chose St. George as their patron because the fabled aspect of his story enjoins itself quite easily to the culture, thus achieving two goals with one man, inspiring greatness and chivalry while keeping Christ as the focal point.
Appreciating the story of George the dragon slayer who saves the damsel in distress can correlate well with the Catholic heroes’ job to protect Holy Mother Church from the snares of a demonic worm whose only mission is carnage. George fought for the faith by way of personal holiness and union with God. By standing firm in the face of persecution, even unto death, he slit the throat of the dragon with the sword of the Spirit. Who knows—maybe it was his bodily sacrifice which caused fifteen thousand men to convert, and it wasn’t an earthly princess he was protecting, but the love of his life, the Catholic Church.
The Catholicity of George’s life must not be ignored. Historians agree that he died around 303 or 304 AD, a time of great persecution and strife for the Catholic Church. History states that he was tortured and beheaded for refusing to deny his faith in Christ. This death must have been a monumental one. His reputation as a saint appears just as widespread as that of St. Francis of Assisi or one of the many other broadly accepted Catholic saints. It’s amazing how one man can affect humanity by his sacrifice and virtuous living. It’s as if an atomic bomb of grace exploded at his death and the aftermath surrounded the world. Even without a single word from the mouth of George, his legacy lives on. In the shadow of St. Joseph—the silent terror of demons—we may not know much about the life of St. George, but the way he lived it was profound.
As a model of chivalry and knighthood, George’s popularity amplified during the Crusades. During a time when men knew that they were giving their lives for the propagation and protection of the faith, they needed an ideal to live up to. Those soldiers found it in the person of St. George. George’s historical impact is unopposed by nearly every culture around the world. It wasn’t just a folktale that accomplished this popularity; it was his adherence to the following of God made man in the person of Jesus Christ. He appears to have paid serious attention to the words of Christ when he said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).