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Contents

  1. Wadworth: St George and the Dragon
  2. Cookies on the BBC website
  3. Secondary Navigation
  4. SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON: THE ORIGINS OF THE LEGEND
The Legend: Did St George really kill a dragon?

The religious crusades that plagued the 11th and 13th centuries brought about a resurgence of popularity for the saint. 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 was about to become dinner for a dragon that had settled near the city of Silene — allegedly in modern-day Libya. As luck would have it, St George was passing through and saved the princess by beheading the dragon.

His bravery is said to have inspired people in Silene to convert to Christianity. A great story, but more fantasy than reality. It remains the most prestigious British order of chivalry today. Thanks to his Medieval revival, St George became a popular patron saint. The red-on-white cross is emblematic of the English and Georgian flags and even features on the badge of FC Barcelona.

Wadworth: St George and the Dragon

In England, pubs are adorned with the English flag. In Barcelona, booksellers and florists take over La Rambla for the festivities, where men traditionally hand out roses and women offer books. The holiday has special religious significance in Georgia because St George is attributed with bringing the Christian faith to the region.

Mass services are held at churches built in his honour, and Giorgi George remains one of the most popular male names in the country. His legend still serves as the prototype for our notions of Medieval bravery, and his martyrdom is a source of strength for modern Christians. My country is at peace, the Queen my consort is amiable, and my daughter is as fair as she is good. I have nothing left to desire. But as the words were spoken a shadow fell, none knew whence, and encircled the King. And looking upon it, he replied, though fearing nothing: "There is none so gracious that grief may not fall upon him, and I know not why I have been more blest than other men.

That night, as the watchman went round the walls of Selene, he felt upon the air a most poisonous vapour that came from without the walls. And even as he wondered, the fumes of the poison became too much for him, and he fell over, and in a little time expired. Now he had not long been lying there when a knight passed that way, and he had gone but a short distance beyond the spot where the body of the watchman lay, when he felt upon the air an odour most subtle and unpleasant. And it seemed to him that it came from without the city walls, where lay bogs and marshes and damp grounds.

But even as the thought passed through his brain, the poisonous fumes became too much for him, and he, too, fell to the ground. And in the morning another watchman, making his round, found his fellow dead beside the city wall, and, a little distance from him, the dead knight. And upon the air was a faint odour that was unpleasant to the nostrils.

Then the watchman scaled the wall, and, having glanced over, he perceived a huge beast which crawled away from the city and toward the marshes. As it crawled it flapped two great black wings, and from its nostrils belched out a black flame which contained those poisonous fumes of which the watchman felt the trace. Its body was covered with scales, so strong and smooth that they were like a knight's armour; and in shape it was half crawling beast, half loathsome bird. As the watchman observed it, the dragon crawled into the farther part of the marshes, and lay still.

Then the watchman hurried him to those in authority to report this affair; and when the matter came to the King's ears, he was greatly disturbed, for he remembered the shadow that had fallen upon him, and, despite himself, he was filled with fears. Yet the fears were not for his own safety. And he roused himself to give orders that none should go outside the city walls till the dragon had gone back whence it came. So the long day through no man went outside the city walls, but many adventurous persons, having gained a perch upon the walls, observed the dragon, which had come into the sunlight, and could be seen lying there.

These saw when, in the evening, the dragon roused itself, and rolling over its loathsome body, started to crawl toward the city.


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It crawled on four twisted feet, and pushed itself with its wings; and its eyes shone like red flames. As this vile creature approached, the people were afraid, and retreated into the city, for they knew not for what purpose the dragon came. When it had reached the gates of the city, it took up a position close to them; and from its nostrils it poured terrible fumes, so that the people were like to die. Then the King called together his knights, and one, who was braver than any other, declared that he would discover from the dragon its purpose in so haunting the city. And having entreated the dragon to cease casting out its poison while he spake with it, he approached and asked for what purpose it had come to the gates of Selene.

The dragon replied, by signs and hoarse noises, that it would only depart from the city gates and cease troubling the people of Selene with its poison, if it were granted a meal of two sheep a day. When the King heard of this reply, he ordered that two sheep should be set aside every day for the dragon, and put without the city walls. And when the dragon had on that day received two sheep, it devoured them, and crawled back to its lair. But it remained in the marshes, and not far from the city, so that none might enter the city or come out of it for fear of the dragon.

And every day it roused itself, and crawled to the gates to receive its meal of two sheep. But after a time the sheep became few in number, so that there would not long be enough to feed the dragon; and the people were possessed with fear. Then came to the King the bravest knights of Selene, praying him that he would allow them to go out and do battle with the dragon. The King replied: "My brave knights, I fear me that ye go to your deaths. Yet can I neither forbid nor dissuade ye, for the fate of my people lies heavy on my heart.

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Having so spoken he became silent, for the foreboding was upon him that darker trouble was to come upon the people of Selene. Then went out the knights to do battle with the dragon. And when it perceived them issue from the city gates, it forsook its lair and ran toward them with a most incredible speed, resting partly upon its body, and partly upon its wings. And, having come near, it fell upon them, breathing out its terrible poison, and lashing them with its wings. And, since the knights could neither pierce the scales with which its body was covered, nor stun the creature with the hardest blow, they were speedily overcome by the fumes that emanated from it.

And they perished, one and all. Then there was weeping in Selene for the fate of the bravest of her knights. And while the people wept, they trembled, for the sheep that remained were few. When there was no longer one left to offer to the dragon, it lay again by the city gates, and threw its poison into the city. And the King, moving as one moves in an evil dream, facing a horror only half understood, went to the gates of the city, and called upon the dragon to cease its poison for a time since he would talk with it.

And he asked of it why it had come to torment the people of Selene.

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But to that the dragon would answer nothing. Then said the King: "Our sheep are all finished, and indeed there is little food of any kind in Selene. Since this be so, wilt not thou leave our gates, and return to thine own place? But the dragon, lifting its loathly head, made answer, by signs and noises: "I will not return to it. Let me be granted one child a day for my meal, and I will not molest the people of Selene. Then the King went back the way he had come, and he walked heavily, for in his breast his heart was turned to stone.

SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON: THE ORIGINS OF THE LEGEND

And he was filled with one great fear. Cried the people of Selene: "We care no longer to live, since our children are to be taken from us!

Nevertheless, because the poison from the dragon was reaching everywhere, so that none could escape, they promised, with bitter weeping, to offer up one child a day, hoping that the dragon would return to its home ere all the children were devoured. And every day lots were cast.


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And upon whom fell the lot, a child of his was delivered to the dragon.