Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of St. George, the patron saint of England. (The image depicted, however, is to be found in my home town, within the Prague Castle, and dates back to 1373.)
Very little, if anything, is known about the real Saint George. Pope Gelasius said that George is one of the saints "whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God."
He was born in Cappadocia, an area which is now in Turkey, in the 3rd century; his parents were Christians and when his father died, George's mother returned to her native Palestine, taking George with her. George became a soldier in the Roman army and rose to the rank of Tribune. The Emperor Diocletian (245-313) began a campaign against Christians at the very beginning of the 4th century. In about 303, George is said to have objected to this persecution and resigned his military post in protest, tearing up the Emperor's order against Christians. This infuriated the emperor, and George was imprisoned and tortured - but he refused to deny his faith. Eventually he was dragged through the streets and beheaded. It's said that Diocletian's wife was so impressed by George's resilience that she became a Christian and that she too was executed for her faith. The famous story about St. George slaying a dragon while saving a princess is, however, most likely just a beautiful legend.
The earliest known British reference to St. George occurs in an account by St. Adamnan, the 7th century Abbot of lona. The saint is also mentioned in the writings of the Venerable Bede. From the 14th century, Saint George was regarded as a special protector of the English and English soldiers were called to wear "a signe of Saint George" on chest and back. George's reputation grew with the returning crusaders. A miracle appearance, when it was claimed that he appeared to lead crusaders into battle, is recorded in stone over the south door of a church at Fordington in Dorset. This still exists and is the earliest known church in England to be dedicated to Saint George. The Council of Oxford in 1222 named the 23rd April Saint George's Day.
When Edward III (1327-77) founded the Order of the Garter (c. 1348), the premier order of knighthood in England, he put it under Saint George's patronage. The magnificent St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle was built by Edward IV and Henry VII as the chapel of the order. The badge of the Order depicts St. George on horseback slaying the dragon. In 1415, Archbishop Chicele promoted the Feast of St. George to principal status after Henry V's speech at the Battle of Agincourt invoking St. George as England's patron saint.
Finally, in 1940, King George VI inaugurated the George Cross for 'acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger' as an award usually awarded to civilians: St. George slaying the dragon is depicted on a silver cross.
Let us pray.
O GOD, who didst grant to Saint George
strength and constancy in the various torments
which he sustained for our holy faith;
we beseech Thee to preserve,
through his intercession,
our faith from wavering and doubt,
so that we may serve Thee
with a sincere heart faithfully unto death.
Through Christ our Lord.
By Fr Tomas