Today is the feast of St. George, one of the most popular and venerated saints in all of Christendom.
The most well known legend of St. George is the tale of his encounter with the dragon. The venerable Catholic encyclopedia describes it this way:
The best known form of the legend of St. George and the Dragon is that made popular by the "Legenda Aurea", and translated into English by Caxton. According to this, a terrible dragon had ravaged all the country round a city of Libya, called Selena, making its lair in a marshy swamp. Its breath caused pestilence whenever it approached the town, so the people gave the monster two sheep every day to satisfy its hunger, but, when the sheep failed, a human victim was necessary and lots were drawn to determine the victim. On one occasion the lot fell to the king's little daughter. The king offered all his wealth to purchase a substitute, but the people had pledged themselves that no substitutes should be allowed, and so the maiden, dressed as a bride, was led to the marsh. There St. George chanced to ride by, and asked the maiden what she did, but she bade him leave her lest he also might perish. The good knight stayed, however, and, when the dragon appeared, St. George, making the sign of the cross, bravely attacked it and transfixed it with his lance. Then asking the maiden for her girdle (an incident in the story which may possibly have something to do with St. George's selection aspatron of the Order of the Garter), he bound it round the neck of the monster, and thereupon the princess was able to lead it like a lamb. They then returned to the city, where St. George bade the people have no fear but only be baptized, after which he cut off the dragon's head and the townsfolk were all converted. The king would have given George half his kingdom, but the saint replied that he must ride on, bidding the king meanwhile take good care of God's churches, honour the clergy, and have pity on the poor. The earliest reference to any such episode in art is probably to be found in an old Roman tombstone at Conisborough in Yorkshire, considered to belong to the first half of the twelfth century. Here the princess is depicted as already in the dragon's clutches, while an abbot stands by and blesses the rescuer.The historical St. George was a Roman soldier in the service of the emperor Diocletian. In 303 AD, Diocletian ordered the arrest of all Christian soldiers and for the remaining soldiers to regularly offer incense to the Roman gods. George refused, much to Diocletian's distress. George then announced in front of his fellow soldiers that he was a Christian. The emperor tried to persuade him to reject the Christian faith, offering him gold, jewels, land, women, anything he wanted, but George remained steadfast. Diocletian had no choice but to order George's torture and execution. George was beheaded on this day in 303.
St. George is most famously the patron saint of England. King Richard the Lionheart received a vision of St. George promising him victory while he was on the Crusades. King Edward III named St. George the patron saint of England and the royal family in the 14th century. William Shakespeare, who died on this day in 1616, implanted St. George even further into the English imagination with his play Henry V:
"The game's afoot! Follow your spirit! And upon this charge cry, "God for Harry! England! And Saint George!"
The English flag is the Cross of St. George, visible at modern English sporting events. So celebrate today with some hearty roast beef, good beer, reading or watching some Shakespeare, and starting a soccer riot. Everyone pretends to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day, so why not? St. George, ora pro nobis.