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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Georgios and the Great Persecution

The man who we all know as St George was actually a soldier in Diocletian’s army at around 230AD.  Diocletian, of course is famous for slaughtering Christians in waht is known as “The Great Persecution”. 

There is widespread acceptance of the historical existence of George, hereafter known as Georgios.  It is suggested that Georgios’s father was a Greek Christian from Cappadocia and an official in the Roman army and his mother was from Lydda, where Georgios was reputedly born.  Following the death of first his father, then his mother, Giorgios travelled to Nicomedia and presented himself to the Emperor Diocletian in order to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Roman soldier. 
As Diocletian had known his father (or perhaps known of his father?), Giorgios was accepted and within a few years he became a Tribunus in the Imperial Guard at Nicomedia.

Unfortunately for the young Giorgios (now in his late 20s), on Feb 24th AD303 Diocletian decreed that every soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman Gods – and that any dissenting Christian soldiers should be arrested.

Georgios objected and vowed to remain true to his Christian faith.  He renounced the Emperor’s edict loudly and publicly – and indeed in front of Diocletian.  It appears that Diocletian really did value Georgios as we are told that he offered gifts of money, land and slaves if only Georgios would make a sacrifice to the Roman gods.

After such public protestations the Roman Imperial machine was left with no option but to show its strength and execute Giorgios by decapitation before Nicomedia's city wall, on 23 April 303.  Thus Giorgios became a venerated Christian martyr.

Georgios’s martyrdom resulted in a growing following in the Middle East with many miracles attributed to his name by 900AD – when sources suggest that Georgios was ‘universally accepted as a saint.’  As early as 496, Pope Gelasius in De libris recipiendis includes George among those saints 'whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God'

St George is now venerated in the Catholic church, the Church of England, by the Orthodox churches and by the Churches of the Near East and Ethiopia.

Tomb of St George
As for the dragon The episode of St. George and the Dragon was a legend brought back with the Crusaders -  the earliest known surviving narrative text is an eleventh-century text.

The supposed tomb of St George can still be seen at Lod, south-east of Tel-Aviv; and a convent in Cairo preserves personal objects which are believed to have belonged to George.

The virtues associated with St George, such as courage, honour and fortitude in defence of the Christian faith, indeed remain as important as ever.

A brief chronology

The earliest account of his death appears to be by Eusebius of Caesarea, writing c. 322 who notes the death of a noble birth soldier on April 23rd in 303, but makes no mention of his name.

496 Pope Gelasius in De libris recipiendis includes George among a list of saints

In 1222, the Synod of Oxford declared April 23rd a “lesser holiday” in honour of St George.

In 1348, George was adopted by Edward III as principal Patron of his new order of chivalry, the Knights of the Garter. Sources also suggest that Edward made him Patron Saint of England in 1350.

1415 April 23rd that day became “a great feast” to be observed like Christmas Day.

Archaeological evidence - none to speak of, but do we need any?

[Apologies if any of this is wrong - it is all my own work undertaken in a totally amateur way!]

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