Today is St George’s Day!
St George is the patron saint of England (and many other places). He wasn’t English and almost certainly did not slay a dragon.
It is likely that Saint George was born to a Greek Christian noble family in Lydda in Palestine, during the late third century between about 275 AD and 285 AD. He died in the Greek city of Nicomedia in Asia Minor. His father, Gerontios, was a Greek from Cappadocia, an officer in the Roman army; and his mother, Polychronia, was a Greek native of Lydda. They were both Christians from noble families of the Anici, so their child was raised with Christian beliefs. They decided to call him Georgios (Greek), meaning “worker of the land” (i.e., farmer). At the age of fourteen, George lost his father; a few years later, George’s mother, Polychronia, died.
Then George decided to go to Nicomedia, the imperial city of that time, and present himself to Emperor Diocletian to apply for a career as a soldier. Diocletian welcomed him with open arms, as he had known his father, Gerontius — one of his finest soldiers. By his late 20s, George was promoted to the rank of Tribunus and stationed as an imperial guard of the Emperor at Nicomedia.
In the year AD 302, Diocletian (influenced by Galerius) issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods of the time. However, George objected, and with the courage of his faith approached the Emperor and ruler. Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best tribune and the son of his best official, Gerontius. But George loudly renounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods; he made many offers, but George never accepted.
Recognizing the futility of his efforts and insisting on upholding his edict, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have George executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s city wall, on 23 April 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.
Today also marks the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth (1564) and death (1616).
The True Dragon by Brian Patten
St George was out walking
He met a dragon on a hill,
It was wise and wonderful
Too glorious to kill
It slept amongst the wild thyme
Where the oxlips and violets grow
Its skin was a luminous fire
That made the English landscape glow
Its tears were England’s crystal rivers
Its breath the mist on England’s moors
Its larder was England’s orchards,
Its house was without doors
St George was in awe of it
It was a thing apart
He hid the sleeping dragon
Inside every English heart
So on this day let’s celebrate
England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape
Lakes shivering with delight
Let’s celebrate St George’s Day,
The dragon in repose;
The brilliant lark ascending,
The yew, the oak, the rose