St George: The Dragon Slayer

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A painting by famous Italian painter Raffaello Sanzio depicting St George fighting the dragon

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On the 23rd of April every year, the UK and several European countries celebrate St George’s Day, the dragonslayer. Churches remain open and packed with visitors. Candles and hymns inside churches and abbeys, and celebrations outside it. Many cultural institutions commemorate St George’s Day, the patron saint of Britain, and the patron saint of the European Scout. He is referred to by the Easterners as ‘Mar Georges’.

In the historical Palestinian city of Lydda was the birth of St George in the late third century A.D. He lived and was educated in the Christian church and progressed within it, before leaving towards Libya, which was in pre-Islamic periods and important place for many Christian saints and clerics such as Mark[1], Nestorius[2] and others.

Will Durant, the author of the great encyclopaedia ‘The story of civilization’ writes based on ‘Legenda sanctorum’ by the Christian cleric ‘Jacopo de Voragine[3]’ that St George travelled to Libya, wandering in it, until he reached Silene – Al-khums currently – and there the legendary miracle took place when the saint is depicted fighting the dragon. Durant says

“And who was Britain’s St. George?

Near Silenum, in Libya, a dragon annually received as food a living youth or maiden, chosen by lot, as the price of not poisoning the village with his breath. Once the lot fell to the virgin daughter of the king. When the fated day arrived she walked to the pond where the dragon stayed. There St. George saw her, and asked why she wept.

“Young man,” she said, “I believe that you have a great and noble heart, but hasten to leave me.” He refused, and induced her to answer his question. “Fear nothing,” he told her, “for I will help you in the name of Jesus Christ.” At that moment the monster emerged from the water. George made the sign of the cross, recommended himself to Christ, charged, and plunged his lance into the beast. Then he bade the maiden throw her girdle around the neck of the wounded dragon; she did, and the beast, yielding like any gallant to so potent a charm, followed her docilely forever afterward. These and other pretty tales were gathered, about 1290, into a famous book by Jacopo de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa; for each day in the year he told the story of its appointed saint; and he called his book Legenda sanctorum- Readings about the Saints. Jacopo’s collection became a favorite with medieval readers, who called it Legenda aurea, the Golden Legend. The Church counseled a certain suspension of belief in regard to some of these stories, but the people loved and accepted them all”

This story spread, and St George became because of it one of the most famous Christian characters around the world from that time until today. Hundreds of abbeys and churches carry his name as do many cities and towns in the world. By his name and flag (white with a red cross), the flags of many countries were inspired such as England, Georgia and others. In Libya, there are churches and sites carrying his name, one of the most famous of which is Mar Georges’ church in Tripoli and Mar Georges’ church in Misrata.

 

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Google celebrates St George’s Day on 23rd of April 2015

 

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The symbol of Georgia depicting St George slaying the dragon

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4 St George orthodox church in the old town, Tripoli

 

[1] Mark, one of the four authors of the Gospels, and the most prominent figure of Christianity in Libya. Born in the Green Mountain in Libya, he migrated to Palestine before returning in Libya. There is a valley named after him in the Green Mountain known as ‘Mark’s valley’ or ‘the valley of the Gospel’.

[2] Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople, who died in mid fifth century. His teachings reject, in great detail, that Mary was the mother of God. His opinions were refused by the church at first, and he was later exiled by Theodosius II, so he went to an oasis in the Libyan Desert and lived there for several years.

[3] Jacopo de Voragine, an Italian cleric and the archbishop of Genoa.

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