Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
Forty days before the Triduum, the Lenten season disposes Catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery through prayer and penitential practices.
George, Martyr, died c. 303
All that we know for certain about this saint is that he was martyred in the early fourth century. During this period, a great persecution of Christians was taking place under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian.
George, a Christian knight from Cappadocia, saw that some were being terrified into giving up their faith. He went into the public square and announced loudly that the Christian God is the only true God. Arrested by the provost, Datianus, George was tortured unmercifully, but, in the night, Jesus came to him and restored him to good health. Next a magician was sent to give him a potion containing a deadly poison. George drank this with no ill effects and the magician, converted by this act, also died a martyr. Further attempts to crush the saint between two spiked wheels and to boil him to death in a vat of molten lead had no effect.
Datianus then tried promises and cajolery to sway George. Pretending to agree to sacrifice to the false gods, George prayed and a fire rained down from heaven destroying their temple and idols. Even though his wife had also converted after witnessing these events, Datianus then ordered the saint beheaded. After this was carried out, a fire from heaven consumed the provost.
No story about Saint George would be complete without the tale of the dragon slaying. While this account was not added to his lore until the twelfth century, it was widespread throughout Europe during the middle ages. There is, however, no factual basis for it.
According to legend, George was riding in the province of Libya when he came upon a city called Sylene, near which was a marshy swamp. In this swamp lived a dragon which the people could not kill because its breath was so terrible that none could approach it. To keep the dragon at bay, the people supplied it with two sheep every day, but when sheep became scarce, a human victim had to be substituted.
On the day that George arrived, the victim, chosen by lot, was the king’s daughter. Dressed as a bride, she went forward to meet her fate. Coming on the scene, George pierced the dragon with his lance. Then he fastened a belt around the dragon’s neck and the princess led the captive dragon into the city. The people were about to flee, but George told them to have no fear. If they would just believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized, he would slay the dragon. The king and all of his subjects readily agreed and some fifteen thousand men (not counting women and children) were baptized.
George then killed the dragon and four ox-carts were needed to carry the carcass to a safe distance. The king offered the knight great treasures, but George told him to give these to the poor. Upon leaving, George left four orders for the king: that he maintain churches, that he honor priests, that he himself attend religious services, and that he show compassion for the poor.
Probably as a result of this myth, Saint George became the patron of England and of the Order of the Garter. Saint George is also the patron saint of Portugal, Germany, Aragon, Genoa, and Venice. His optional memorial is celebrated on April 23.
George’s message today: We have all met people like the provost, Datianus, who, even when presented with overwhelming evidence, refuse to believe. We may even have someone like this in our families. Our quiet and regular prayer may do wonders for these people.