St. George kills a dragon

Pocket Bard’s notes: What collection of saints’ lives would be complete without St. George and the dragon? I haven’t quite worked this one into its full, show-stopping glory, but it’ll happen. Oddly, the part of this story that I like best is when the king and his daughter are lamenting together; you can really sense the heartbreak of the king at having to lose his only daughter.

I also find the Christian overtones — while expected — to be very interesting. The idea that St. George won’t kill the dragon until everyone converts is not a part of this story I was taught while growing up.

St. George kills a dragon
The Golden Legend, Volume I, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.238-240

George, a native of Cappadocia, held the military rank of tribune. It happened that he once traveled to the city of Silena in the province of Lybia. Near this town there was a pond as large as a lake where a plague-bearing dragon lurked; and many times the dragon had put the populace to flight when they came out armed against him, for he used to come up to the city walls and poison everyone who came within reach of his breath. To appease the fury of this monster the townspeople fed him two sheep every day; otherwise he would invade their city and a great many would perish. But in time they were running out of sheep and could not get any more, so, having held a council, they paid him tribute of one sheep and one man or woman. The name of a youth or a maiden was drawn by lot, and no one was exempt from the draft; but soon almost all the young people had been eaten up. Then one day the lot fell upon the only daughter of the king, and she was seized and set aside for the dragon. The king, beside himself with grief, said: “Take my gold and my silver and the half of my kingdom, but release my daughter and spare her such a death.” But the people were furious and shouted: “You yourself issued this decree, O king, and now that all our children are dead, you want to save your own daughter! Carry out for your daughter what you ordained for the rest, or we will burn you alive with your whole household!” Hearing this, the king began to weep and said to his daughter: “My dearest child, what have I done to you? Or what shall I say? Am I never to see your wedding?” And turning to the people he said: “I pray you, leave me my daughter for one week, so that we may weep together.” This was granted, but at the end of the week they came in a rage, crying: “Why are you letting your people perish to save your daughter? Don’t you see that we are all dying from the breath of the dragon?” So the king, seeing that he could not set his daughter free, arrayed her in regal garments, embraced her tearfully, and said: “Woe is me, my darling child, I thought I would see sons nursing at your royal breast, and now you must be devoured by the dragon! Alas, my sweetest child, I hoped to invite princes to your wedding, to adorn the palace with pearls, to hear the music of timbrel and harp, and now you must go and be swallowed up by the beast.” He kissed her and sent her off, saying: “O, my daughter, would that I had died before you, rather than lose you this way!” Then she threw herself at his feet and begged his blessing; and when, weeping, he had blessed her, she started toward the lake.

At this moment blessed George happened to be passing by and, seeing the maiden in tears, asked her why she wept. She answered: “Good youth, mount your horse quickly and flee, or you will die as I am to die.” George responded: “Lady, fear not; but tell me, what are all these people waiting to see?” The damsel: “I see, good youth, that you have a great heart, but do you want to die with me? Get away speedily!” George: “I will not leave here until you tell me the reason for this.” When she had told him all, he said: “Don’t be afraid, child! I am going to help you in the name of Christ!” She spoke: “Brave knight, make haste to save yourself; if not, you will die with me. It is enough that I die alone, for you cannot set me free and you would perish with me.”

While they were talking, the dragon reared his head out of the lake. Trembling, the maiden cried: “Away, sweet lord, away with all speed!” But George, mounting his horse and arming himself with the sign of the cross, set bravely upon the approaching dragon and, commending himself to God, brandished his lance, dealt the beast a grievous wound, and forced him to the ground. Then he called to the maiden: “Have no fear, child! Throw your girdle around the dragon’s neck! Don’t hesitate!” When she had done this, the dragon rose and followed her like a little dog on a leash. She led him toward the city; but the people, seeing this, ran for the mountains and hills, crying out: “Now we will all be eaten alive!” But blessed George waved them back and said to them: “You have nothing to fear! The Lord has sent me to deliver you from the trouble this dragon has caused you. Believe in Christ and be baptized, every one of you, and I shall slay the dragon!” Then the king and all the people were baptized, and George, drawing his sword, put an end to the beast and ordered him to be moved out of the city, whereupon four yoke of oxen hauled him away into a broad field outside the walls. On that day twenty thousand were baptized, not counting the women and children. The king built a magnificent church there in honor of Blessed Mary and Saint George, and from the altar flowed a spring whose waters cure all diseases. He also offered a huge sum of money to blessed George, who refused to accept it and ordered it to be distributed to the poor. Then he gave the king four brief instructions: to have good care for the church of God, to honor the priests, to assist with devotion at the divine office, and to have the poor always in mind. Finally, he embraced the king and took his leave. Some books, however, tell us that at the very moment when the dragon was about to swallow the girl alive, George, making the sign of the cross, rode upon him and killed him.


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