During the week I have been blogging about St George's day (April 23rd) back home across the pond. But who was St George?
The image of Saint George, renowned for his defense of all in need, is among the most well-recognized of Christian martyrdom figures. Primarily famous for being the Patron Saint of England (replacing the former patron, Edward the Confessor), George is also known as "Victory Bringer" and "The Quick to Hear." Of the man himself, very little can be considered a certainty, save that he lived during the Fourth Century and was executed by decapitation in Lydda, Palestine. He was most probably born in Cappadocia of noble, Christian parents and, upon the death of his father, accompanied his mother to Palestine, her country of origin, where she owned land and where George may have been expected to oversee the estate but instead, chose the life of a military man.
The earliest mention of St George is in 322 A.D when Eusebius of Caesarea mentions a
"noble-born soldier of high rank the Roman army, being thrown into prison for vehemently disagreeing with Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians and, despite being tortured, refused to recant his beliefs. The following day, April 23, 303, he was dragged through the streets of Nicomedia and beheaded. The Emperor's wife, Alexandria, was so impressed at the soldier's courage, that she converted immediately to the Christian faith and was also put to death."
He was adopted as the Patron Saint of soldiers after he was said to have appeared to the crusading armies during the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Many such similar stories were transmitted to the West by Crusaders who heard them from Byzantine troops. The tales were circulated even further by the troubadours. When Richard I (also known as "The Lionheart") was campaigning in Palestine during 1191 and 1192, he put his army under the direct protection of Saint George.
In addition to being the Patron Saint of England, George is the Patron Saint of Aragon, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece. He is the Patron Saint of Catalonia, where legend has it that, after killing the dragon, he gave the princess a red rose and, as a result, on April 23 (especially in the City of Barcelona), it is traditional for men to give their sweethearts or wives a red rose and the lady in question reciprocates the gesture with the gift of a book. He is also the Patron Saint of Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (where he is second only to Saint Mark), as well as being the Patron Saint of the State of Georgia. He is the patron of soldiers, cavalry and chivalry; of farmers and field workers; of Boy Scouts and of butchers; of horses, riders and saddlers; and of sufferers from leprosy, plague and syphilis.
He is particularly the Patron Saint of archers, which gives a special meaning to these famous lines from William Shakespeare's "Henry V," Act 3, Scene 1:
I see you Stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the Start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry "God for Harry, England and St. George!"
This is even more interesting as William Shakespeare's was born and died on St George's Day.
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