Saint George and the Dragon
The legend of Saint George and the Dragon was first recorded in the 11th century, in a Georgian source. It reached Catholic Europe in the 12th century. In the Golden Legend, by 13th-century Archbishop of Genoa Jacobus da Varagine, George’s death was at the hands of Dacian, and about the year 287.
The tradition tells that a fierce dragon was causing panic at the city of Silene, Libya, at the time Saint George arrived there. In order to prevent the dragon from devastating people from the city, they gave two sheep each day to the dragon, but when the sheep were not enough they were forced to sacrifice humans instead of the two sheep. The human to be sacrificed was elected by the city’s own people and that time the king’s daughter was chosen to be sacrificed but no one was willing to take her place. Saint George saved the girl by slaying the dragon with a lance. The king was so grateful that he offered him treasures as a reward for saving his daughter’s life, but Saint George refused it and instead he gave these to the poor. The people of the city were so amazed at what they had witnessed that they became Christians and were all baptized.
The Golden Legend offered a historicised narration of George’s encounter with a dragon. This account was very influential and it remains the most familiar version in English owing to William Caxton‘s 15th-century translation.
In the medieval romances, the lance with which Saint George slew the dragon was called Ascalon, after the Levantine city of Ashkelon, today in Israel. The name Ascalon was used by Winston Churchill for his personal aircraft during World War II, according to records at Bletchley Park. In Sweden, the princess rescued by Saint George is held to represent the kingdom of Sweden, while the dragon represents an invading army.
A titular church built in Lydda during the reign of Constantine the Great (reigned 306–37) was consecrated to “a man of the highest distinction”, according to the church history of Eusebius; the name of the titulus “patron” was not disclosed, but later he was asserted[by whom?] to have been George.
The veneration of George spread from Syria Palaestina through Lebanon to the rest of the Byzantine Empire—though the martyr is not mentioned in the Syriac Breviarium—and the region east of the Black Sea. By the 5th century, the veneration of Saint George had reached the Christian Western Roman Empire, as well: in 494, George was canonized as a saint by Pope Gelasius I, among those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to [God].”
The early cult of the saint was localized in Diospolis (Lydda), in Palestine. The first description of Lydda as a pilgrimage site where George’s relics were venerated is De Situ Terrae Sanctae by the archdeacon Theodosius, written between 518 and 530. By the end of the 6th century, the center of his veneration appears to have shifted to Cappadocia. The Life of Saint Theodore of Sykeon, written in the 7th century, mentions the veneration of the relics of the saint in Cappadocia.
Hercules, too, rescued a maiden, a daughter of the father of Priam, Leomedon, from a sea monster, but then was jilted in payment, hence beginning the first Trojan war.