April 23 is the feast day of St. George, Martyr.
St. George, Fact and Fiction. Almost nothing historical is known about St. George. Shreds of factual data suggest that he was a Christian who lived during the late Third Century when there were fierce persecutions against the Church, and that he was beheaded in Lydda, Palestine, sometime around 303 AD. Over the ensuing centuries his popularity grew enormously, and in the Twelfth Century a fantastic legend emerged about him as a dragon-slayer. The story is folklore, not history, but captivating nonetheless.
A Dragon with Halitosis. The tale begins with George, a Christian knight, attired in armor and mounted on a mighty steed. In his travels he came upon Sylene, a city in Libya, North Africa. The city was near a marshy swamp where a fierce dragon prowled about, and it ventured forth from time to time, and it terrorized the countryside. The local citizens banded together to mount an attack to kill it, but the dragon’s breath was so horrible that they were not able to get close enough to accomplish their mission.
A Devouring Dragon. The dragon had a ferocious appetite, so to prevent the dragon from entering the city the residents fed it with two sheep each day. When the supply of sheep ran out, a person was chosen by lot to be given to the dragon to eat. On one occasion the lot fell to the king’s own daughter, and no one was willing to take her place. The young princess was marched out to the dragon, dressed as a bride to meet her doom.
St. George to the Rescue. George arrived at the outskirts of the city at this tragic moment. He attacked the dragon, and with his lance he speared it, nailing it to the ground, but without killing it. Then he took the king’s daughter’s girdle and tied it around the dragon’s neck, and the princess, taking hold of the garment, used it to tow the dragon into the city, the beast following tamely behind.
A Bargain to Slay the Dragon. With the dragon inside the city, the residents were overcome with mortal anguish, and as they were about to flee George told them that they had nothing to fear, and declared, “If you believe in Jesus Christ, and if you will consent to baptism, then I will kill the dragon.” The king and his subjects quickly agreed, so St. George squared off with the dragon and courageously slayed it. Next, fifteen thousand were baptized. The king offered George great treasure, but he refused it and instructed the king to give it to the poor. As George departed, he made four requests of the king: keep the churches in good repair; honor the priests; attend church services regularly yourself; and show special concern for the poor.
Patronage. St. George was the patron saint of the Crusades, knights and soldiers. Currently he is revered as the patron saint of England and Georgia in Russia, as well as horse-back riders, soldiers in the cavalry, and the Boy Scouts.