Monday 3 February 2014

Saint George’s Dragon

The story of Saint George and the dragon ("The Legend of Saint George") dates back to about 300 AD Libya, and the version most commonly repeated is recorded in the 13th century Golden Legend. Though St. George is a venerated Christian hero and the patron saint of England, to be honest, I’ve always felt a little sorry for the dragon.

Saint George and the Dragon

Both George (according to Paul Newman, his real name was Nestor) and his dragon were displaced and doomed characters. George was originally from the otherworldly region of Cappadocia in present day Turkey, so Libya was a long way from home. And while we’re never told where the dragon came from, it can’t have always haunted the lagoon near Silene, or presumably no city would have grown up there.
Strange natural rock formations in Cappadocia, George's
homeland. Dragons would love this place.
  Image copyright Rosemary Drisdelle

The dragon was no fire breather, but rather, it had breath so foul that it poisoned the air for miles around. Perhaps this had something to do with living in a stagnant lagoon, which seems an unhealthy place for a dragon. Understandably, the people of the city were anxious that the creature with the dreadful breath be kept as far away as possible, and so they delivered sheep to the dragon, and when the flocks ran low, they sacrificed first men, and then children. (In Silene, winning the lottery was not like we experience it today: their lottery winners got fed to the dragon).

The dragon must have known it couldn’t last forever – at two children a day, even a fairly large city will start to empty its schools pretty quickly. And so the day came when a lottery winner was someone that no one really wanted to part with: the king’s daughter. 

The Death of the Dragon

A depiction of the battle between
Saint George and the dragon, on a
church in Egypt. Image copyright
Rosemary Drisdelle

Delivered to the dragon in wedding finery, the princess might have been a challenging mouthful, but the poor dragon never got to find out. In the nick of time, the heroic George appeared and immediately recognized an opportunity to convert an entire city to Christianity without bloodshed – or at least without human bloodshed.

In minutes, George accomplished what an entire city could not: he battered the dragon into submission. Numerous works of art depict the battle, with many showing George mounted on a horse, driving his spear down the dragon’s throat.  Thereafter, George had the princess lead it into the city like a dog on a leash, and in exchange for the Christian baptism of more than 30,000 people, he slew the dragon and beheaded it.

The Death of Saint George

That George could get close enough to subdue a large dragon (the story relates that four ox carts were needed to take away the remains) in spite of its noxious breath seems a bit of a miracle, so its not surprising that the hero went on to escape death by poisoning, swords affixed to cart wheels, and immersion in molten lead. The dragon might find it satisfying that George was finally successfully beheaded.

The legend has it that after the death of the dragon, a fountain in Silene ran with water that could heal the sick, but whether this was due to George’s deeds, or some magic of the dragon, I couldn’t say.


Newman, Paul. The Hill of the Dragon. Bath: Kingsmead Press, 1979

The Legend of Saint George. Abstracted from The Golden Legend; or, Lives of the Saints, compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First edition published in 1470. Translated into English by William Caxton, first edition 1483.

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