St George – Our Patron: 23rd April
St George is perhaps one of our most familiar saints. Patron of England since the 1340s, he is often remembered more as a national symbol and for a killing a dragon, than as a martyr who gave his life for his faith.
George was born in late third-century Cappadocia and served with distinction in the Roman army. He became a Christian, declaring his new faith in the presence of the Emperor who immediately sentenced him to death.
George was martyred at Lydda in Palestine in about the year 303.
After his death his popularity grew and spread throughout the East, with many churches being dedicated to him. By the fifth century knowledge of him had spread to Rome and he became known in England from the seventh century.
St George became even more popular during the crusades. At the Siege of Antioch in 1098, the three military saints, St George, St Mercurius and St Demetrius, appeared to the Latin troops on white horses and led them to victory. In 1191 King Richard I visited the martyr's tomb and placed his army under his protection.
The link with a dragon seems to have come at a much later date. The story goes that a dragon terrorised part of Libya but was appeased with sacrificial offerings, first of sheep then of humans who were selected by lot. One day it was the turn of the king's beautiful daughter to be sacrificed. However, St George courageously kills the dragon and saves the king’s daughter.
The dragon has much Christian symbolism representing the powers of darkness - whether it be paganism, heresy, Christian persecution, or the Devil himself. The saint, through his strong faith, kills the dragon thus truly defeating all that is evil in the world.
St George showed himself to be a man of deep conviction who gave his life for what he held to be true and his example reminds us not to be complacent about our freedoms.
Like him, we need the strength to speak up when free expression of faith is threatened either by very obvious means such as violent attack or more subtly by the undermining of the values of faith and side-lining the place of faith in our society.
In these difficult times in which we find ourselves many of the certainties of our life are no longer so certain. More than ever a strong message that promotes the values of justice, decency, tolerance and love of neighbour are needed.
Being called to be a Christian is not always easy but the power of the Holy Spirit and the example of martyrs like St George, are there to help and inspire us. So as we celebrate the feast of St. George let us pray for the courage to be like our patron and be ready to proudly proclaim the values of the risen Lord Jesus, in all that we do and say.