St George, the patron saint of England

Last Updated 07 June 2012, 14:16 IST

St George was born in Palestine in the fourth century. At that time, he was plain George. His father held a high post in the army of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. George followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the army. When Christians began to preach and spread the gospel, many converted to Christianity. George was one of them.

George’s acquaintance with the dragon is believed to have taken place in Silene in Libya. (According to some sources, in Silne, modern Beirut.) Now dragons are nasty creatures with the most disturbing habits. They love to live in dark, dingy caves, guarding treasures.

They have a fondness for human flesh, especially when it happens to be young maidens of royal lineage. That is why there are so many legends about distressed princesses being saved by gallant knights in shining armour.
The dragon in question, true to its species, lived in a cave on the outskirts of the town.

Near the cave was a stagnant lagoon from which foul-smelling vapour arose.
The wind drifted it into the interior of the town. The people attributed it to the dragon.

They thought the remedy would be to keep the dragon well-fed, hoping the awful smell would go away. But of course that didn’t happen. Instead, the dragon felt that the people must really love it to send a sumptuous daily meal of two plump sheep at mid-day. So the dragon settled down to a life of comfort and ease.

The number of sheep kept decreasing until none were left. There was a general air of panic in the town.

The king called an emergency meeting of his wise men on what strategy to adopt to keep the dragon in check. “The only way to deal with the dragon is to give it one of our children, once a week,” the king decided. “Each child in the town will be given a number and a draw will be held every week.”

The people didn’t quite like the law, but there was no alternative. The dragon was very pleased with the change of menu for it was partial to tender flesh!

When George arrived on the scene, he noticed the pall of gloom that hung over the town.

It was the day of the draw and on that day, the number drawn was that of the king’s daughter.

As having the draw was the king’s idea and as he had declared that there would not be any exceptions, he couldn’t very well protest. He had to let the princess go. He did it with a heavy heart.

Gallant George got on to his horse and sped to the cave near the lagoon. He saw the princess sitting on the ground, her hands bound behind her back. She was whole and alive because the dragon had overslept that day.

George dismounted and untied the bonds that held the princess captive. Just then, the dragon, which had woken up, emerged from the cave.

George was taken by surprise. For one thing, the dragon was smaller in size than he had expected. For another, it seemed more tame than fierce. George wasn’t a killer. He believed in co-existence. He wanted to avoid confrontation. So he engaged in a dialogue with the dragon.

“It’s wrong to gobble up innocent children who have done you no harm. Let’s go back to Silne and sort out the problem.” He pulled out a blue ribbon from the princess’ dress and tied it round the dragon’s neck. It did look fetching!

“Let’s go!” he said and the dragon meekly followed him. What a commotion there was when the people saw the unharmed princess followed by George pulling along  the dragon with a blue ribbon!

Much later, George became St George, the legendary dragon slayer. Even later, he was acclaimed as the patron saint of England. To this day, people of England celebrate St George’s Day on April 23.

(Published 07 June 2012, 14:16 IST)

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