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Who was St George and did he really slay a dragon?

Posted on by Hayley Peters

Associated with archetypal ideals of bravery, chivalry, honour, and strength, the legend of St George has become ingrained in the English subconscious. Today, on April 23rd, Christian Churches around the world will celebrate the feast day of St George, but just how much do we really know about the legend and patron saint of England? The image of a heroic knight in shining armour, with his sword drawn, ready to slay a bloodthirsty, fire-breathing dragon is depicted in numerous works of art, but is there any truth behind the paintings?

St George is not only the patron saint of England but of many countries around the world including; Portugal, Germany, and Greece. There is much debate as to whether St George actually existed or was rather the result of an early story account, enhanced over time, by followers of Christianity.

It is thought that St George, who, not English himself, lived in the 3rd century and was born in Cappadocia and became a soldier of the Roman army. At the start of the 4th century, Emperor Diocletian led an operation to persecute Christians which enraged St George and led him to leave his post in the military as an act of protest. A furious Diocletian sent St George to prison where he was tortured, but throughout this turmoil, he held true to his Christian beliefs. Diocletian brutally ordered the execution of St George who was beheaded in Palestine.

In 1483 a book named the Caxton popularised the story of St George to the mass population. Elements of the fantastic were added to the original story and this helped to create and further fuel the myth of St George as a heroic dragon slayer. 

The story in the Caxton is embellished and filled with elaborate details of how a town was terrorised by a dragon and in order to stop this, the townspeople fed the dragon two sheep each day. When the sheep failed to suppress the dragon's appetite, the people agreed to feed it one sheep and one man. As time passed, the King's daughter was selected for sacrifice. It was by luck that St George just so happened to be passing through the town and gallantly killed the dragon, saving both the princess and the town from future terror.  

Written by Hayley Peters