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A MAN OF PRINCIPLE TO INSPIRE US

Father Francis's picture
Saint George

Once upon a time there was a brave knight who rode out in search of adventure. He came to a village where all the inhabitants were in great distress because they were being terrorised by a huge dragon which lived in a nearby swamp. The dragon had eaten all the livestock in the village and was now demanding human sacrifice. Taking pity on the villagers, the knight challenged the dragon and killed it with one blow of his lance.

That is the legend of Saint George which has taken root in popular imagination. It has found expression in countless paintings, poems and plays. But if there were nothing more to the hero than a charming fairytale he would not have been venerated so widely and so persistently throughout the Christian world.

The whole truth about George's life is difficult to establish but it is thought that he was born in the late third century to Christian parents living in the Roman province of Cappadocia. His mother came from Palestine and on the death of his father George went to live there. He joined the imperial army and quickly rose to high rank. He might have continued a distinguished military career but when the Emperor Diocletian began persecuting Christians George resigned his commission. He was immediately arrested, imprisoned and tortured, but he refused to give up his faith. As a result, he joined the ranks of the early Christian martyrs. He was executed at Lydda in Palestine in 303.

Very soon after his death, George was honoured as a saint. The Emperor Constantine the Great, who lived from 274-337, ordered a church to be built over George's tomb and the story of his martyrdom began to be told all over Europe. Crusaders fighting the Saracens were inspired by this brave soldier of Christ, and when they returned home to England they encouraged devotion to him.

As a result in 1222 the feast of St George was established as a holy day throughout England, and he has been the national patron since the reign of Edward III. It was in 1344 that Edward instituted the Order of the Garter of St. George, the oldest and highest order of chivalry in Europe. Today, George is venerated as patron saint of England, Greece and Portugal, and of all Christian soldiers.

But what about that dragon? Clearly it is meant to be taken as a symbol of evil. The Book of Revelations speaks of "the great dragon, called the devil and Satan".

Sadly England is no longer a Christian country. Not only have people neglected God, they have ceased to believe in the existence of Satan. May St George continue to protect England and help us to be strong and courageous in our faith.