St. George has been the patron saint of England since around the end of the fourteenth century. His feast day is April 23, and the royal Chapel of St. George on the grounds of Windsor Castle is dedicated to him. It’s one of the most beautiful and historic churches in England, but photos are not allowed inside–a fact I bemoan, but also respect. (At least nobody is taking a selfie). The photo above is from the guidebook: St. George casually resting his foot on the vanquished dragon. It’s on a baptismal font.
In 1415, St. George appeared in the sky above the battlefield at Agincourt, presumably helping King Henry V win his great victory over the French, against overwhelming odds. The photo above, again from the guidebook, is a 1998 copy of a gilded 15th century wood carving, now too fragile and precious to be on display.
That same year, Archbishop Chichele ordered that St. George’s Day be celebrated like Christmas Day. (This lasted until 1778, when it went back to being a simple day of recognition mostly by English Catholics).
The origin of the saint is probably of an early Christian martyr, possibly from the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Legends grew up around a story about a virtuous knight who defeated a dragon that demanded human sacrifice. In some stories, the dragon had a princess in his clutches, and St. George happened along and killed the dragon.
The dragon in the legends represents pure evil, defeated by goodness. Naturally, the story was adapted to various times and places, the dragon standing in for contemporary enemies of Christianity or the ruling powers. In the Swedish Cathedral of Stockholm, there’s a huge and elaborate sculpture of George and the Dragon. I’m not sure of the date, but everybody in Sweden after 1471 remembered that Swedish troops wearing the image of St. George defeated the cruel oppressive Danes at the battle of Brunkeberg.
I liked the simplicity and modesty of an early medieval wood carving of St. George and the dragon from the Hinnerjoki Church, now in Finland’s National Museum in Helsinki. The Finns appealed to St. George not so much as a military hero as to protect their livestock.
I also liked a contemporary needlework depiction, in a display at Canterbury Cathedral a couple of years ago.
Today in London a new prince was born, fifth in line to the throne. I happened to be in London the day Princess Charlotte was born. Today, I imagine a lot of BLUE party hats and banners in the crowds waiting for a royal sighting outside the hospital.
Meanwhile, St. George’s Chapel is getting ready for the royal wedding of Prince Harry and the American commoner Meghan Markle next month.
I won’t be there, but I’m happy to have spent time in St. George’s. And I’ll be up early to watch whatever is on TV about the happy occasion!