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George, St.


Martyr. In the Canon of Pope Gelasius (d. 496) St. George is mentioned in a list of those "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known

only to God." The only historical element in the intricate tradition that has grown around his name is his martyrdom. The dubious elements include his rapid advance to high military rank, his organization of the Christian community at Urmiah (modern Iran), and his visit to Britain on an imperial expedition. The connection of St. George with the dragon, familiar since the Golden Legend of james of voragine, can be traced to the close of the sixth century. At Jaffa, near Lydda, Perseus had slain the sea monster that threatened the virgin Andromeda, and George acquired the inheritance of veneration previously enjoyed by the pagan hero.

According to a sixth-century local tradition George came originally from Lydda in Palestine, and his remains were brought back from Nicomedia to his native city, but Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 322), relating the martyrdom of a noble soldier who confessed Christ at Nicomedia before Diocletian in April 303, neither names the saint, nor mentions his country or place of burial. The deacon Theodosius (c. 530) is the first pilgrim to mention the tomb of St. George in Lydda. The fifth-century passio is pure fantasy.

St. George was popular in the East, and the crusaders revived his cult in Europe. The Synod of Oxford in 1222 ordered that his feast be kept as a national festival, but it was only in Edward III's time that he was made patron of the kingdom. He is also patron of Portugal, Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, and several cities; in Italy 118 communes carry his name. In the Middle East, it is difficult to identify St. George, for at times he has replaced Adonis; more often he is linked with the Prophet Elias, under the name El Khader (the living). Until modern times, he played a most important role in popular feasts and folklore, the date of his festival being connected with the arrival of spring.

Feast: April 23.

Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum April 3:101165. h. delehaye, Les Légendes grecques des saints militaires (Paris 1909) 145176. e. hoade, Guide to the Holy Land (Jerusalem 1962).

[e. hoade]

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