Background Information

Origin: European History, Middle Eastern History, The Canon of the Catholic Church
Dragons Slain: An unnamed Western-Style Dragon; generally depicted as smaller than a horse with poisonous breath

Background: Saint George became an important symbol of chivalry. His noble deeds and martyrdom made him a patron saint of warriors and scouts. He is also petitioned for preventing fevers and other ailments. His story reflects the triumph of Faith over worldly evil to the Christian world.

One of the most notable things about Saint George is that he remained the patron Saint of England even after the Reformation, when the Catholic Church no longer had sway in, and Catholics were openly rejected from, England. His legend and symbolism were re-formed and re-told by Edmund Spencer and Richard Johnson, which kept him in honor during both the Catholic Church's influence and the change to the Anglican Church's rule.

Saint George, the Dragon Slayer

Saint George and the Tamed Dragon

Figure 1. 'St. George and the Dragon,' Limewood statue from Germany around 1480-90 exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum March 2010.
Click to see larger image. Photograph by Kylie 'drago' McCormick.

The earliest story of George occurs in a town in Libya called Silene. [2] The townspeople of Silene long suffered a dragon living in a local pond. The creature once approached the gates of the town, and even its breath killed any who came near it, so poisonous was the cloud that issued from its mouth. [3] The people town presented the beast with two sheep each day till they realized the sheep would soon be exhausted. Then they were forced to sent a man and a sheep instead. As the sheep disappeared, the people finally resorted to a lot, whereby any young person, rich or poor, would be offered to the dragon should the lot fall upon him or her that day. In time, the lot fell upon the King's only daughter. [3]

The King grieved over losing his daughter so young, that he may never see her married. He asked for an eight-day respite on her death, which the people granted to him, but after they passed, the King submitted to his duty and dressed his daughter in her finest, as she would do on her wedding day, and sent her off to the dragon. [3] As she walked to her fate, George saw her in her finest cloths, weeping. He asked her why she cried, and she replied, 'Good youth, quickly mount your horse and fly less you perish with me.' [1]

Even before she finished the tale of dragon, the monster reared its ugly head above the surface of its watery abode. She pleaded with George to leave, but he replied with the sign of the cross. He met the dragon, brandishing his lance, and beat him to the ground, where it lay docile and timid.

George turned to the princess and told her not to fear, and he asked her to take her girdle and tie it around the dragon. [1] After she did this, the creature followed her as if it were a meek ewe. [3]

George and the princess brought the dragon into Silene, and the townspeople hid themselves. George called to them, though, and told them not to fear, for the Lord had sent him to deliver them from the terrible dragon. [1] The King and the townsfolk cheered, and in turn became baptized and followers of Jesus Christ. [3] Twenty thousand men and their families became followers that day, owing to his great feat. [1] George then smote off the head of the dragon and ordered the body to be left apart in a field. [3]

Saint George was not martyred by his feats with the dragon. Diocletian, the Emperor of Rome during the early fourth century, persecuted Christians violently. In 303 A.D., George suffered torture and death for not renouncing his Faith. [2]

Saint George's passion, as originally described in Greek manuscripts in the sixth century, spans eight days. He survives various tortures, usually to the bewilderment of his tormentors, and had a vision while in prison that the Lord would revive him and give him strength. [2] By the time he finally was beheaded, he had been speared, broken on a wheel, thrown into quicklime (an acid-like burning chemical with poisonous fumes), poisoned, scourged, and forced to run strapped to red-hot instruments. [2]

The first textual representation of George and the Dragon appeared in the thirteenth century, in the work of The Golden Legend, a compilation of the life and works of various saints. [2]

Saint George, the Dragon Slayer, the Alternative Story

Saint George and the Dragon, a casting of the original bronze

Figure 2. A plastercast of the original bronze of 'St. George and the Dragon' from Prague. Cast by Martin and Georg of Kolozsvar 1373. The cast was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum March 2010. Click to see larger image. Photograph by Kylie 'drago' McCormick.

Because St. George's story became reframed during the Reformation, a new story of the dragon slayer became quite popular, this one is described in Richard Johnson's The Renowned History of the Seven Champions of Christendom. [2]

George was a Knight of England who traveled the world as a soldier. His adventures landed him in Egypt, and upon arrival he and his troop found the small hut of a very aged man. He asked the man where they could proceed safely, and the elderly man told them, with great sadness, that no safe place remained in Egypt since the dragon appeared. [4]

The enormous monster had consumed every single virgin woman in the land, save for the princess Sabra, the daughter of King Ptolemy of Egypt. With no recourse, the King said that any knight who could slay the dragon would have his daughter in marriage and the inheritance of the crown of Egypt, but still no man dare fight the beast. When George heard of this, he was deeply moved and asked the aged man how he could learn more of this fiendish dragon.

George made haste to the palace of Ptolemy, where he met Sabra, who waited bravely for her fate wearing her finest clothing. His heart became moved by her resolve, and he told her that he would face this bitter dragon; he need only be shown the way. [4]

The dragon lived in a valley, near water. Its terrible breath had killed almost everything around it, so no animals would to wander by. As soon as the Knight came into view, the dragon knew that he had come to slay him. With a roar like thunder, the beast made a spectacular show of itself. [4]

From the shoulders to the tail, the dragon measured 50 ft. (15.24 m). He had fiery wings, and his scales shined as bright as silver, as solid as brass. His belly, though, was golden, and hard. [4]

George, upon his trusted horse, road to meet the dragon, which launched itself with burning wings outstretched. This nearly unseated George from his horse, but he recovered his seat and struck the dragon a blow with a thrust from his spear. [4] Upon contact, the blow landed so hard that the spear shattered into a thousand pieces upon the hardened scales of the monster. Enraged at the hit, the dragon swiped its venomous tail around, bringing both George and his steed down to the ground. [4]

In this valley, a blessed orange tree had taken root. The orange tree possessed an important quality that, given its rare virtue, no poisonous creature dares come near its branches, nor would poison drift past the tree. [4] Despite the loss of his lance and being unseated and unsteady, George managed to move backwards until he was under the orange tree. The dragon could not approach, even in a rage, and so George rested and recovered some of his strength. [4]

With renewed vigor, George set upon the monster with Ascalon, his trusted sword, and he slashed open its belly. As the dragon howled in pain, the wound issued a torrent of black venom, which splattered over the knight's fine armor. [4] The venom was so heavy and noxious that the armor broke in two, knocking George to the ground. The dragon remained distracted in its agony, so George aptly rolled back under the orange tree for protection. [4]

Almost lifeless, George felt his strength again returning by the virtues of the orange tree. As he sought comfort, his eyes found a newly fallen orange, which he ate with thanks and gladness. It happened that, in addition to this virtuous orange tree being a righteous protection from the dragon, the fruit of the tree cured all types of wounds and diseases when eaten. George revived in full. [4]

The champion then prayed for the help of Heaven, that he might slay the dragon. No sooner did he set upon the dragon again than Ascalon's tip found its mark under the dragon's fiery wing. There, no scale protected the beast and the joint remained tender. George pressed the sword in to the hilt, through the liver and heart of the dragon, which wailed in agony. [4]

As before, the wound issued terrible gore, the innards of a dragon. George learned that day that such gore turns the green grass of a valley to crimson. The ground, which had been scorched by the dragon's venomous breath, now was drenched with the moisture that exploded from the monster's venomous bowels. [4] The gore seemed endless, but the dragon finally fell, slain at the hands of Saint George.


Saint George and the Dragon in Stone

Figure 3. 'St. George and the Dragon' Plaque of Istrian Stone from Venice, Italy around 1500, specifically from a house near the Ponte dei Bartti, exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum March 2010. St. George is a common feature on houses in Venice belonging to the Scuola degli Schiavni (Guild of the Slavs) or its members.
Click to see larger image. Photograph by Kylie 'drago' McCormick.

George's Saintly History

Saint George was not always a popular saint. At the dawn of the sixth century, he was the patron of the Byzanntine Army, and Western Europe regarded him as a minor saint until the First Crusade (1095-1099), when a vision of Saint George preceded the capture of Antioch, which was taken as a sign of God-granted victory. [2]

In 1222, St. George's Feast day, 23 April, became a holiday In England. He later became the patron saint of England, Venice, Genoa, and Portugal, among other places. [2] His fame did not decline even when the Reformation occurred, and the Anglican Church took root in England. Saint George's story changed slightly, but he remains to this day the patron of England, despite the split in the Church.

Throughout the Middle Ages, many towns would hold processions on Saint George's Day, April 23. Some famous examples include Leicester, Coventry, Reading, King's Lynn, and Norwich. The processions included a re-enactment of the slaying of the dragon; a young, well-dressed rider and horse (usually white) would portray George. The dragon was presented as a puppet, an effigy, and paraded around the town. George and the Dragon would meet, fight, and the dragon would be 'slain.' [2] During the Reformation, some of these celebrations turned into artisan-sponsored events, which helped unwed them from their Catholic roots enough to keep them in practice. For example, in Norwich, the proceedings of St. George's Day became known as The Mayor's Show.


Quick Facts

  • Saint George has two distinct slaying stories, one in Libya and the other in Egypt.
  • The dragon outside of the Libyan town of Silene was about to eat the princess when Saint George tamed it. [3] Then the princess tied her girdle around it [1] and led the now-docile dragon into Silene for everyone to see. [3]
  • The people of Silene converted to Christianity for Saint George's feat; [1] he beheaded the dragon to ensure its end. [3]
  • The dragon in Egypt had eaten all the virgins in the land, save for the princess Sabra, the daughter of King Ptolemy of Egypt. [4]
  • Saint George took pity on the people there and fought the dragon. First his spear splintered on the dragon's hard scales, throwing him off his horse. He took refuge under a sacred and protective orange tree and revived. [4]
  • In his second attempt, Saint George opened the dragon's belly with Ascalon, his sword, but it poured black venomous blood onto his armor, knocking him to the ground again. He returned to the refuge of the orange tree, where he found an orange. Its nature and blessings fully revived him. [4]
  • On this final attempt, Ascalon found the dragon's weak point, the joint under the wing. This allowed George to puncture the dragon's heart and kill it. [4]


  1. Ingersoll 194-195 [Full Text available online]
  2. Lindahl, McNamara, and Lindow 173-174
  3. Voragine, 'The Golden Legend: St. George'. Translated by William Caxton
  4. Johnson, The Renowned History of the Seven Champions of Christendom

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.