Friday, April 23, 2010

What's The Occasion? St. George's Day


Although St George's Day is England's National Day, it's observed elsewhere in the world as well; Palestinians celebrate today as the Feast of St. George (since the saint was originally known as St. George the Palestinian) at the Monastery of St. George in al-Khader, near Bethlehem. The Catholic Church, of course, call it Georgemas, and owing to its close colonial ties with the UK, St. George's Day is also a statutory holiday in Newfoundland. Additionally, St. George is the patron saint of dozens of countries, cities, regions, and organizations around the world which all to varying degrees commemorate his life on this, the anniversary of his death.

Although best known for slaying the dragon with a lance called Ascalon, the fact that he was a legionnaire in the guard of Roman Emperor Diocletian - that well-known persecutor of Christians - who refused to recant his Christianity and in doing so defied the Emperor may have something to do with his enduring fame; while Christians may draw the simplistic conclusion that the dragon in question represents the Devil, a more historical perspective on the dragon is that he (and more specifically his hoard) serve as a metaphor, representing the greed of the nobility or even of the church, whose own hoards of gold and silver severely hampered the economy of the Middle Ages in order to adorn their palaces and cathedrals.

Stories of St. George (as with all of the earlier saints) are a combination of historical fact and fanciful legend; many of those in circulation today owe their fame to the Golden Legend, a collection of hagiographies by Jacopo da Varagine that was the closest thing to a medieval bestseller we have. These were first printed in England in 1483, by William Caxton. The legend also has parallels with the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda, and in the grandest tradition of the Holy Mother Church may have been wholly appropriated from pre-Christian cultures.

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