A blog from our Minister, Revd. Julian Sanders for 23rd April
That St. George was a real person is beyond all reasonable doubt. Though I think that is all we can claim with any historical certainty. Some have George being born in Armorica (modern day Brittany) and others have him originating from Turkey. Though the facts of his birth are clouded in mystery, there seems to be some sort of conclusion that his death came about during Diocletian's persecution on the 23rd of April 303 A.D.
Jerome, who lived from 331 to 420, mentioned him in one of his lists of Martyrs and in the following century many churches were erected to his honour, our own church in this tradition but many years later. St. Gregory, who lived from 540 to 604, has a ‘Preface for St. George's Day” in one of his works, and the Venerable Bede in 672 to 735 says “At last St. George truly finished his martyrdom by decapitation, although the gests (tales) of his passion are numbered among the apocryphal writings.”
In the history of the “Order of the Garter” it says that King Arthur in the 6th century placed the picture of St George on his banners, and we are told in other places that St. George was the patron saint of England even in Saxon times. The council of Oxford in 1222 commanded a festival to St George be observed in England as a holiday, and on the establishment of the “Order of the Garter” by Edward III, St. George was adopted by England as it's patron saint.
Though George was certainly a real person, what of this dragon? It is perhaps just a simple allegory to express the triumph of a Christian hero over evil. We see similar stories with St. Michael, St. Margaret, St. Silvester and St. Martha who are all depicted as slaying dragons in their histories. St John the Evangelist charmed a winged dragon from a poisoned chalice given to him to drink, and John Bunyan avails himself with the same figure when he makes Christian encounter Apollyon and prevail against him.
The most vivid images that we have of St. George and the Dragon invariably come from a ballad found in a collection of poetry compiled by Bishop Thomas Percy and published in 1765. In this account St. George was the son of Lord Albert of Coventry, and his mother died in giving him birth. The newborn babe was stolen away by the weird lady of the woods who brought him up to deeds of arms. His body had three marks on it: a dragon on the breast, a garter around one of the legs, and a Blood Red Cross on the arm.
When he grew to manhood he first fought against the Saracens, and then went to Sylene, a city of Libya, where there was a stagnant lake infested by huge dragon who's poisonous breath had slain many cities. The dragon’s skin was so thick that no spear or sword could pierce it. Each day a virgin was sacrificed to it and at last it came to the lot of Sabra, the King's daughter, to become it's victim. She was tied to the stake and left to be devoured, when St. George came up and vowed to take her cause in hand. On came the dragon, and St. George thrusting his lance into its mouth killed it on the spot. The king of Morocco, and a king of Egypt, unwilling that Sabra would marry a Christian, sent St George to Persia and ordered him be killed. He was thrust into a dungeon, but made good his escape and carried off Sabra to England, where she became his wife and they lived happily at Coventry together until death.
Who knows how much fact is rolled in with all the stories and legends around St George. But today it seems poignant that we should pay honour to one who defeated a dragon ‘whose skin could not be pierced by sword or shield’. The Coronavirus is infesting our land today, and indeed the whole world. It is a disease that seems impervious to anything we might attempt to do to destroy it, and each day we hear the toll of those who sadly have given their lives over to this terrible monster. Surely the story of St George, if it does anything, encourages us that the monster, however impregnable it may seem, can be defeated. We praise the work of scientists around the world, and most prominently in Oxford today, who are working on that vaccine that might just defeat this virus.
As people of St George, as we are, surely we stand in our community as a testimony to the history of this Christian tradition that celebrates the victory of good over evil, and the crushing of the dragon by those with God on their side. Let us pray today for all those who have lost their lives to this virus, and pray that those seeking a vaccine and a remedy for Covid-19, may find success and release us all from its danger.
Lord Jesus Christ,
We thank you for the life of George,
whoever he was. His stories have encouraged
and inspired Christians and non-Christians
through the generations.
May we be reminded
of the sacrifice made by
those who stand up to evil.
May we commend those
working today in hospitals,
labs, care homes, and on the streets
battling against Coronavirus.
May we remember those
who have died in the fight
and pray that they may rest
with all your saints in heaven.