St. George

Martyrs Rev. Antony W. Ball Saints

by Rev. Antony W. Ball

We don’t usually make a fuss about ‘saints’ days’ in our ‘free’ Churches – the Anglican Church I attend for Morning Prayer most weekday mornings has no such inhibitions – but maybe George, the patron saint of England1 (whose day is April 23rd), does deserve some mention. St George was a high-ranking officer in the Roman army who protested against the Romans’ torture of Christians. The Roman emperor Diocletian ordered his death for failing to recant his faith – which is how he became a Christian martyr. Most people probably associate him with slaying a dragon because, by the thirteenth century, George was being portrayed with the red cross of a crusader, symbolising the victory of good over evil, and becoming one of medieval Europe’s greatest legends.

The story goes that St George rode into Silene (modern day Libya) to free the city from a dragon who had a taste for both sheep and humans (particularly young maidens) and was extorting money from villagers. The villagers held a huge feast in St George’s honour and his feast day is celebrated each year in tribute to his bravery.

Aside from being the patron saint of so many places, St George is considered the patron saint of knights, soldiers, scouts, fencers and archers, among others; he is also invoked against the plague and leprosy, and against venomous snakes – more than enough to keep him busy! The choice of St. George as England’s patron saint was chiefly that of King Edward III, who reigned from 1327 to 1377.

1 He’s also the patron saint of Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Greece, Georgia, Portugal, Romania, Syria, Lebanon, Catalonia, Alcoi (a city in Spain), Aragon and Rio de Janeiro – so we do have to ‘share’ him with many other places.

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