Today is St George’s Day. Articles about St George frequently begin with words such as ‘Little is known about St George’, and it is true. Probably he was a soldier living in Palestine at the beginning of the fourth century. He may have been a Palestinian or a Syrian, and he was martyred in about the year 304, during the persecution of Diocletian. If this is true, it means that this is the seventeen hundredth anniversary of his martyrdom — an anniversary which seems to have passed unnoticed, as did that of Agnes, martyred in Rome in January of about the same year. Agnes, though, has a shrine and feast day in Rome to keep her cult alive, but George seems to have gone somewhat out of favour. Even this morning’s Church Times carried an article suggesting he be replaced as England’s patron.
George is mostly remembered for the legends that came to be told about him, most famously his slaying of a dragon, and the consequent rescue of a virgin princess. George is said to have been martyred at Lydda, in Palestine, the place at which Perseus, in Greek mythology, defeated a sea-monster, and it seems likely that the legend has been transferred from the pagan hero to the Christian martyr.
This legend, however, serves us well as an allegory of aspects of the Christian faith. George, a soldier for Christ, puts on the whole armour of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, as Paul writes in Ephesians. Thus armed, he is ready to take action against the dragon, the representative of evil, a deed reminiscent of that of Michael, the archangel, in the great vision in the Book of Revelation. And he does this, not for great glory and honour, but to save the life of an innocent girl threatened by this evil, a girl who has no one else to protect her.
Modernists may mock, or may consider the legends to be sexist or sexual, but here is a parable, an allegory, of our Christian life — whatever our politics or churchmanship: to defend the weak against the onslaught of evil, and to help bring each person that we meet closer to the kingdom of God.