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George of Lydda
George of Lydda
Born in Turkey of "Black" Palestinian parentage, AKA the patron saint of England

St George is the Patron Saint of England and one of the most famous of Christian figures. But of the man himself, nothing is certainly known. The earliest possible source, Eusebius of Caesarea, writing around 322 AD, tells of a 'man of the greatest distinction' who was put to death under the Roman Emperor Diocletian at Nicomedia (present-day Palestine) on April 23rd, 303 AD, but makes no mention of his name, his country, his place of trial or his place of burial.

George is believed to have come from Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) and was raised in Palestine, and held the important rank of tribune in the Roman army. He was beheaded by Diocletian for protesting against the Emperor's persecution of Christians. In some versions, George is identified as the soldier who tore down the posted proclamation suppressing the Christian religion and confronted the Emperor to condemn him for requiring soldiers to sacrifice to the pagan gods. Diocletian first had George tortured to make him sacrifice but when he still refused, sentenced him to death by beheading. The early sources give graphic descriptions of George's imprisonment and his successful endurance of a series of horrific tortures. He so impressed the Emperor's wife, Alexandria that she converted to Christianity, and was duly executed too. George's body was taken from Nicomedia to Lydda by his mother, who had estates there. Miracles of healing soon began to be claimed by many who had visited his tomb, and early pilgrims would take dust away to bring blessings on their families, flocks, herds and houses.

George rapidly became a saint in Palestine and was held on equal footing with Moses, Elijah and St. Michael. His cult was adopted as a martyr of exceptional bravery, defender of the poor and the defenceless and of the Christian faith. St George on his white horse came to be regarded as the quintessential Christian soldier, whose protection was increasingly invoked in the Near East as the Christian communities were attacked by the Saracens. George thus became the patron saint of the Crusades. Armies reported visions of St. George before victorious battles and he became more and more popular.

The first thing anybody thinks about in connection with St. George is dragons. Everybody has heard of "St. George and the dragon" and there are countless "George and Dragon" pubs, but when pushed, people are less certain about the actual details of the story.

The story, which first gained popularity in the 14th century, is set in Lybia (or Lydda, depending on which translation you read), where a dragon was terrorising the local populace who tried to appease it by feeding it all their flocks of sheep. When all the sheep had been eaten, they turned to human sacrifices but even so the beast continued to destroy the countryside. Finally, it was decided to sacrifice the princess in a last-ditch attempt to buy off the dragon. Fortunately for her, along came St. George on his trusty white charger and duly slew the offending dragon, freeing the princess in the process. It is said that the story is allegorical, with the dragon representing Satan and the princess representing the Christian church. It does not, however, take a major leap to connect the story of George and the Dragon with the equally well-known myth of Perseus and Andromeda, and so it could be another case of the Church adapting a good pagan story and using it for its own purposes.




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