Saint George and The Dragon

Saint George the Dragon Slayer
St. George is a symbol of courage and valor, and the triumph of Good over Evil. Saint George and the Dragon By Raphael, c 1505-1506.

St. George is a symbol of courage and valor, and the triumph of Good over Evil.
Saint George and the Dragon
By Raphael, c 1505-1506.

Mythical legends of Dragons abound in European folk lore however there seems to be few stories, if any, in North American history. The majority of Dragon legends seem to have originated in Great Britain where several species of dragons were said to dwell

Dragons came in a variety of shapes and sizes from snakes to lizards to gigantic winged creatures. The most well known of all dragon types is the 'heraldic dragon, the largest and the most powerful. It is covered with scales and its head usually has horns or a crest. It has a spined tail, savage teeth and claws. It can fly and is fierce in its ability to spat jets of flame from its mouth.

Conquering this dragon was the ultimate achievement for a folk hero or knight because it was almost impossible to kill. The one vulnerable spot on its body was well hidden. Generally, it is assumed that vulnerable spot was its heart. Also known as the 'true dragon' these beasts were said to have laid waste to vast areas while they held whole communities captive. The true dragon is often said to have magical powers such as invisibility and self-healing. This dragon appears more often than any other kind of dragon in British legend.

The struggle between Paganism--symbolized as a dragon--and Christianity--generally symbolized by a cross or sword
--is repeatedly told throughout European folklore. Saint Sampson is said to have led a dragon to its death over a sea cliff of Cornwall. St. Serf destroyed a dragon in Perthshire in the Sixth century. St. Petroc whispered a prayer to one dragon while St. Carantoc led another dragon away from a swamp. St George killed a dragon to protect a princess.

Actual roots of dragon lore are uncertain. Thoughts that dragon myths may have emerged from dinosaur stories are not proven. The dragon invokes images of cunning fire breathing monsters who lived in caverns filled with gold and jewels. In recent years the images of dragons have softened some with stories such as 'Dragonheart' (1996) staring Sean Connery and Dennis Quaid where the heraldic dragon is the last of his species. Also in Nora Roberts' 'Circle' trilogy (2006) dragons were loving creatures who provided transportation for humans on their backs.

Saint George grew up in Cappadocia (Eastern Turkey today) and became a soldier of the Roman Army. When traveling in Silene, Libya he found a princess bound to a stake as sacrifice to a dragon. Farmers in the area had been trying to appease the dragon by feeding it sheep but they had run out of sheep. The King of Silene had decreed to sacrifice one child a day to appease the beast. The morning Saint George arrived, was the morning the king was forced to sacrifice his own daughter, Princess Sabra.

Beyond this, the story of St. George and the Dragon branches off into several versions.

In the first version: The dragon is the corporeal manisfestation of evil and represents everything George pledged to confront and conquer. Hypnotized, St. George flays until he manages to plunge sword into the dragon's glowing eyes. He then beheads the dragon and bids farewell to the people of Silene.

In a second version
the dragon is a general nuisance to the town, staying not to destroy the people but because they have been nice to him. The dragon only likes to eat people because they have no wool to get stuck in his teeth. The day the princess is left for the dragon, St. George comes by and yells at him, "Silly Dragon! Don't you know you aren't supposed to eat people?" Then St. George lead the dragon back to town where the dragon is converted to Christianity.

In a third version St. George manages to attach the head to the princess's girdle allowing her to lead the dragon back to the village where the townspeople have their revenge on the beast.

In a fourth version
St. George mortally wounded the dragon but the princess was able to lead him back to the village. There, St. George delivered the death blow to the dragon and the villagers, were so taken by St. George's faith and valor they were baptized right then.

In yet another version
the St George attacks the dragon and ties it up in the damsel's corset and then slices off the head after the town agrees to be baptized.

In a German version the Count slew the beast who was to eat his daughter. The Count became a saint and a statue was raised in his honor. The name was later changed to St. George and the story became Saint George killing the dragon.

In Edmund Spenser's (1522-1599) The Faerie Queen,
St. George is the Red Cross Knight sent by the Fairy Queen who is Queen Elizabeth to free the daughter, Truth, from the dragon in a battle that last three days.

In still another version a sacrificial virgin is crying at the crossroads when George happens by. Rather than resorting to violence, George instead kneels down and begins to pray. The dragon kneels and submits to George without harming either her or the girl.

The common ground in all the above versions
is that St. George won the battle. Each story, whether violent or peaceful, the message is sent that good conquers evil.
Saint George fighting the dragon has been captured in paintings since the 7th Century. Images of Saint George and The Dragon are one of the most popular subjects in Christian and Byzantine paintings.

The icon 'Saint George the Dragonslayer'
of one of the most famous of Russia. The right upper corner the hand of God extends from Heaven to bless the saint, indicating St. George is an instrument of God's will and George's shield is a symbol of the sun.

Of all paintings of St. George and the Dragon, those of Raphael Santi and Peter Paul Rubin are probably the most well known. Raphael Santi was a major Italian Renaissance painter whose work is equaled to Raphael, Michelango and Leonardo da Vinci. Raphael created more than 300 pieces of art during his lifetime.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
was a painter of the Baroque style, well know for his landscapes and historical paintings of mythological subjects. Rubens studied the works of Veronese, Tintoretto, Michelangelo, Raphael, da Vinci and Caravaggio. He painted his masterpiece 'Saint George and the Dragon' in the city of Genoa where St. George is patron saint.

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