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Saint George

Saint George was a Palestinian soldier saint about whom little is known but who is now regarded as a symbol of English nationalism.

"Saint George of merry England, the sign of victory."  (Spenser)

He has been patron saint of England since 1222, of Greece and of various cities including Venice.  He is the patron saint of archers, knights and the military and is invoked against the plague, leprosy and syphilis.

He was a popular saint for the early Christians of the Greek Church but his cult spread in the West in the Middle Ages as a result of his appearance in The Golden Legend.  To the early Christians the dragon in George's legend represented evil/paganism, the maiden personified a town (Capadoccia, George's birthplace) and the story was interpreted as his conversion of the town to Christianity.  When the legend was later popularized in the Western Church George's legend became fused with that of Perseus and developed into the myth commonly depicted in medieval and Renaissance art:-

A dragon was terrorizing a town demanding to be fed sheep and, as the supply ran out, humans.  The people drew lots daily to select the next victim until, one day, the king's daughter was chosen.  As she stood before the dragon George appeared on a white charger, wounded the dragon, attached the princess's girdle round its neck and led it away to slay it before the king.  All the royal family converted to Christianity on the spot.

In art George is shown in armour on a white horse with a raised sword or with a lance piercing the dragon that lies by the horse.  He is identified by a shield or banner decorated with a red cross on a white background, badge of the English or French crusader since the 12th century.  In a devotional image George stands to kill the dragon and might, therefore, be confused with the Archangel Michael who does likewise.  In sculpture the figure of St Michael should have, or have had, wings.

St George  2

This panel shows George with the princess's girdle tied round his waist. In this version of the legend he will tie the girdle round the dragon's neck before leading it away to be slaughtered.

The most interesting aspect of this panel, however, is not George himself but the dragon, which is portrayed as a female devil or temptress, coiled lasciviously round his legs, one claw having penetrated his armour and reaching up along his thigh.  It has one large breast and its skin is stippled all over, giving an unpleasant bristly, pock-marked affect.

St George 3

A large figure of St George retaining some original polychrome.  His right arm is raised ready to attack the dragon with lance or sword.