I remember a few years ago, I was living in a parish in Washington DC and there was an optional feast we could celebrate that day for the martyr St. George. I was thinking about it and thought, I don’t know any George’s, I don’t have any particular devotion to St. George, I will just go with the standard Mass for the day instead of the prayers and the Red vestments for St. George. And just as I begin walking down the aisle of the church I look up and see two George’s I knew in the parish, and then I remember my one grandfather’s name is also George (although I never called him that), so I usually celebrate the feast of St. George now.
So what do we know about St. George. He was a fairly high member of the Roman Army and is believed to have been a victim of the Roman Emperor Diocletian and his declaration that the army should arrest all Christians and that all soldiers needed to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods. While George would not denounce his faith nor make a sacrifice to the Roman gods some histories states that Diocletian gave George numerous opportunities to fulfill this requirement due to his close friendship with George’s father, but other writings talk about the many years that George was tortured to renounce his Christianity. Before he would be put to death George is also known for having donated all of his wealth to the poor. All of the histories have him ultimately being tortured and then put to death for his faith with the date given as April 23, 303 or as late as the year 307. Within the first two centuries after his death the stories of his torture, his faithfulness, and the conversions that resulted became numerous. While many are not considered to be factual, the great extent of them clearly demonstrated his popularity and the devotion to him as a martyr at that time. He was honored as a saint in both Eastern and Western churches and is even given the title of “prophet” in Islamic hagiography.
He is probably most commonly known to us today as the patron saint of England and is usually pictured slaying a dragon. This tie to England came during the crusades when he was a favored saint by many going on the crusades. The story about St. George that began around the 11th century was that a princess had been offered to appease a dragon but that St. George came and slew the dragon before the dragon could kill the princess. In response to this act the entire kingdom then converted to Christianity. Undoubtedly some of this was founded in the stories of conversions that occurred when George was being tortured, along with the efforts of the crusades and the hope that these efforts would convert entire kingdoms to Christianity, and the dragon is accepted as representing the enemies of Christianity. This story gained great popularity when it was written into a work called the Golden Legend, written around 1260, that spread this story throughout England.
So these are some of the reasons why, this Monday April 23rd, I will celebrate the optional feast of the Martyr St. George and wear red vestments. Also remembering that my mother’s father’s name wasn’t just ‘Grandpa’, but also George.