St. George and the Dragon

St. George on Horseback. Durer, 1508 AD, Engraving

St. George the Martyr, April 23rd.

Though we’d be fools to pretend that we can easily restore a world like old Catholic Europe – still it brings me joy to think of the type of culture that prevailed during the age of Catholic culture and to hope for such rich culture, even in small part, for my own children. Surely there was a day when every young Catholic boy would take to the fields and forests in his youthful leisure and, like the great knight in armor, St. George, slay the dreadful dragon which, in his imagination, prevailed there over some beautiful princess. Here is that story of St. George that surely inspired millions of boys to want to live like true men.

This material is taken from the Lives of the Saints, compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, in 1275. The first edition was published in 1470 and was translated into an English dialect by WILLIAM CAXTON in 1483. I have made slight alterations to the text for ease in reading and understanding. Some sections have been omitted.

Here followeth the Life of S. George Martyr.

Saint George was a knight and born in Cappadocia. One time he came into the province of Libya, to a city which was called Silene. And near this city was a large body of water like a sea, in which there was a dragon which envenomed the whole country. One time the people were assembled to attempt to slay him, but when they saw him they fled. And when he came nigh the city he venomed the people with his breath, and therefore the people of the city gave to him every day two sheep to feed his hunger, in order that he should do no harm to the people. But when the sheep failed to satisfy him, he ate a man as well. Then the king made an ordinance in the town that ordained that by the casting of lots one from among the children and youth of the townspeople should be taken, were he noble or poor, and be delivered to the dragon when the lot fell on him or her. So it happened that many of them were thus handed over to the dragon. On one occasion the lot fell upon the king’s daughter, and the king was greatly distressed, and said unto the people: “For the love of the gods take gold and silver and all that I have, and let me have my daughter!” They said: “How, sir! ye have made and ordained the law, and our own children are now dead, and ye would do the contrary? Your daughter shall be given, or else we shall burn you and your house!”

When the king saw that there was nothing he could do, he began to weep, and said to his daughter: “Now shall I never see thee married.” Then he returned to the people and demanded eight days’ respite, and they granted it to him. And when the eight days were passed they came to him and said: “Thou seest that the city is perishing.” Then the king arrayed his daughter as a bride to be wedded, embraced her, kissed her and gave her his blessing, and after led her to the place where the dragon was.

While she was there, Saint George passed by and when he saw her, a lady, he demanded of her why she was there. She said: “Go ye your way fair young man, that ye may not perish also.” Then said he: “Tell me, what have ye and why weep ye, and do not be afraid of anything.” When she saw that he was persistent, she explained to him how she was delivered to the dragon by lot. Then said Saint George: “Fair daughter, fear not, for I shall help thee in the name of Jesus Christ.” She said: “For God’s sake, good knight, go your way, and abide not with me, for ye cannot deliver me.” Thus as they spoke together the dragon appeared and came running towards them. Saint George, upon his horse, drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. Afterward he said to the maid: “Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afraid.” When she had done so the dragon followed her as if it had been a meek beast and kindly disposed. Then she led him into the city, but the people fled to the mountains and valleys, and said: “Alas! alas! we shall all be dead!” Then Saint George said to them: “Do not be in disbelief but believe ye in God, Jesus Christ, and submit ye to be baptized and I shall slay the dragon.” When the king saw this, he was baptized along with all his people, and Saint George slew the dragon and smote off his head, and commanded that he should be thrown into the fields, and they took four carts with oxen that drew him out of the city.

There were well fifteen thousand men baptized, not including women and children. The king built a church there dedicated to our Lady and to Saint George, inside of which a fountain of living water sprung, which healed sick people that took drink. After this, the king offered to Saint George as much money as he so desired, but he refused all and commanded that it should be given to poor people for God’s sake. Yet he enjoined the king these four things, that is, that he should have charge of the churches, and that he should honour the priests, that he should hear their service diligently, and that he should have pity on the poor people. After this, he kissed the king and departed.

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