No, I’m not referring to the city (of the same name) in southwestern Utah.

It’s the knight/saint and the dragon. The English flag proudly displays “St. George’s Cross”, and the legend of the saint killing a dragon is  — well, it’s — it’s legendary. Drilling down, it would be nice to know what (if anything) actually happened. There is the painting (pictured here), of St. George killing what appears to be a green dog, with two pups, one of which is gnawing on a corpse.

Something is known of the historical St. George (George of Lydda), who was a Cappadocian (Turkish) Greek soldier who served as a member of the Praetorian Guard for the Roman emperor, Diocletian (circa 303AD). He refused to renounce Christ and was subsequently executed. The linkage of that Praetorian to the dragon, that apparently lived in a swamp near a town in Libya, and his capture of the dragon, which he ultimately slew, is tenuous at best. Does he deserve to be the patron saint of England? You’d have to ask the English themselves, wouldn’t you?

Nine hundred years spanned the martyrdom of George of Lydda and the arrival of the dragon legend.

British Royal Order of St. Michael and St. George

The religious crusades that took place between 11th and 13th centuries  and St George’s martyrdom and military service to a corrupt Roman emperor made him an appealing figure to invoke for protection and guidance. As such, the red-on-white cross that crusaders – most notably the Knights of Templar – wore, is also known as St George’s cross. At some point around the 11th century, this revival of St George also resulted in the legend he is most famously associated with.

According to folklore, St George rescued a princess who had been taken to a swamp to be fed to a dragon in Libya (to satisfy the beast’s hunger – OR, possibly because there was no convenient volcano to throw her into).

George,  was passing through Libya on a white horse, saw the girl in jeopardy, captured the dragon and hauled it into the city of Silene, saving the princess and cementing his reputation as a man not to be trifled with. He asked the people of the town if they’d become Christians if he killed it. They agreed and he drove a lance through it, and then decapitated it.

Those actions, carried forward so that in 1344, when Edward III created his own chivalrous knightly order, the Order of the Garter, St George was named as their patron saint. It remains the most prestigious British order of chivalry today.

Compared to the Nile crocodile, the West African crocodile is smaller: Adults are typically between five and eight feet long and they do live in swampy ground. It’s likely that somebody killed one, at some point, and the story grew.

German Royal Order of St. George (WW1)

Today the Order of St. George is a genuinely big deal in Great Britain and in Russia, where it’s the most distinguished medal that can be awarded. The Germans revere St. George as well and offered a diamond-studded medal reflecting courage. Normally it was reserved for people of very high rank because it was a very expensive medal to hand out.

Not to be outdone by other nations, the US Army now has a St. George medal. The Order of Saint George Medallion is the top award given to members of the Army’s mounted force by the United States Armor Association of the United States Army.

I’m not saying that killing a crocodile isn’t a big deal but it would be nice to know who actually killed it. Or maybe it really was a green dog?

Or an eel that lived in the swamp? Maybe a big eel?

14 COMMENTS

  1. I have of course, heard the dragon legend. I do appreciate the lesson on the rest of the story. Five to eight feet? Lucky for George it wasn’t a salty.

    • If somebody potted a five-foot lizard with a lance, it wasn’t likely George, who never left the Near East as far as anyone knows.

    • Arcane knowledge won’t save any of us, but I enjoy looking at different things in different ways. Thanks for joining me on the ride.

  2. Good question, what was the dragon? Eel, croc, mutant dog or something else?

    What we do know is there’s any number of dragon stories and some quite recent, featuring “living dinosaurs.” I was struck by one, from 17th C England, where a group of men shot a few with muskets. They’re weren’t that large, apparently, but deadly to cattle, and nested in trees(!), I think. I’ll try and find the source. Interesting.

    • A lot of those stories are interesting and may have a kernel of truth in them (like St. George). I was once chased to my car by a Kimono dragon/giant monitor lizard, and didn’t have time to get in so I jumped on top. These things do happen in life. Some become legend. Others do not.

      • Don’t give up hope, LL. There may someday be an “Order of St. Larry”, awarded to those who, unarmed, escape mortal danger by hopping on top of their rental car.

        Not sure of application process for sainthood, but a good first step would be commissioning a dramatic painting of the incident.

        • That’s an excellent idea… a painting of me standing on top of the car, holding the dragon at bay with a combination of harsh language and good looks.

  3. Not sure I’m well pleased by the Army now having an Order of St. George.

    You’d think we could have come up with something more opposite to the trappings of filthy Aristocrats, that being the whole point of the fucking country and all.

    Oh, well.
    Looks like American Ideals are going down the tubes anyway, judging by the general national response to the current feeble germ. I suppose it’s just another way that I’m obsolete.
    -Kle.

    • It started in the Age of Constantine, then it migrated to Libya (where a ‘dragon’ resided in a swamp on the outskirts of a town made out of mud, hundreds of years later) and the Brits liked it so much, they made it their own.

      And nations (including the USA) pin medals on their heroes in honor and memory of that most significant of events.

  4. My local pub is St. George the Dragon Slayer. We have no reptiles other than turtles. No green dogs either though we had many Red Fox running around. At least until the People’s Republic of New Jersey trapped and killed them a couple years ago. Bastards.

    • I’ve seen red foxes in bars. Most are women of Irish extraction. Some have freckles. Others don’t. Why is that?

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