St. George and the Dragon, late 19th century engraving.
- Alternate uses, see Saint George (disambiguation)
This saint is also important in Portugal (see, for instances, the São Jorge - Saint George - Castle in Lisbon). Portugal and Catalonia, when defending themselves from Castile throughout Iberian history, have adopted this saint instead of the more traditional Saint James (Sant'Iago), linked with Castile. Saint George also proves the link between these two Iberian nations and England - in fact, the alliance between Portugal and England (now, United Kingdom) is the oldest in the world which is still in force.
Identifying actual locations of the supposed martyrdom of Saint George may be considered unfruitful, since the Roman Catholic church discontinued his active cultus. When George was canonized by Pope Gelasius in 494 CE, Gelasius included George among those "...whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." A historian may still be interested in the location of his earliest cults, located both among the eastern and western Celts, especially since the later iconic image of St. George on horseback trampling the serpent-dragon beneath him, is undeniably similar to pre-Christian representations of the Phrygian god on horseback, Sabazios. Significantly, George's parentage is generally linked to the region of Sabazios' early cult, in Anatolia.
The earliest text preserving fragments of George's highly miraculous narrative are identified by Fr. Delehaye of the scholarly Bollandists, in Acta Sanctorum, as in a palimpsest of the fifth century, 'full beyond belief of extravagances and of quite incredible marvels' according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Information about Saint George is sketchy and mythological at best. The 'George and the Dragon' motif was popularized by Jacopo da Voragine's Golden Legend (Legenda Aurea) in the 13th century. The earliest mounted St George appears on Novgorod icons about the same date; typically, earlier icons do not show him mounted.
The connections of the George and the Dragon motif with the myth of Perseus and Andromeda are widely recognized, specifically in the beheading of the dragon ( the beheading of Medusa), the siting in Libya for George, Ethiopia for Perseus, both distant chtonic kingdoms of magic, the king's daughter motif, and the reward-bargain exacted by the hero, whether Perseus' possession of the princess, or the mass baptism of the king's subjects that was George's reward.
A long time after his death, during the early 2nd millennium, he gained in popularity, mainly in areas where the idea of the original 'knight in shining armour' on horseback was looked upon favourably.
In 1969, Saint George was dropped from the Roman Catholic calendar, and his commemoration reduced to a purely local observance. His feast date, April 23, remains the second most important National Feast in Catalonia. It is traditional in that autonomous community to give a rose and a book to the loved one. This has led UNESCO to declare April 23 as the International Day of the Book.