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Georgios (“earthworker”) was the son of Greek Christians. His father was a Roman army official from Kappadokía in Central Anatolia, and his mother was from Lydda, in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina (formerly Judea), where he grew up. After their deaths he went to Nikomedeia, where emperor Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus, who had known his father, welcomed him into the army. In 303, Diocletianus ordered the arrest of every Christian in the army and the rest of the army should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Georgios, in the imperial guard, publicly proclaimed his faith and rejected the emperor’s offers of land, money, and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the gods, then gave his wealth to the poor. He was arrested, tortured (including laceration on a wheel of swords, during which he was resuscitated three times), and decapitated. During the 4th century, his veneration spread throughout the Byzantine Empire and by the 5th century the Western Roman Empire. In 494 he was canonized as a saint by Gelasius I, who then banned the “Acta Sancti Georgii” because he confused him with Giorgios of Kappadokía, a 4th-century Arian usurper of the bishopric of Alexandria. His acclaim as a soldier saint goes back at least as far as the 7th century at least, and in the 8th century the Venerable Bede listed him among the martyrs. In the late 9th century the “Georgslied” was an Old High German adaptation of his legend. His earliest connection to a dragon episode did not appear until the 10th-century in a Georgian text. An apparition of St. Georgios heartened the Crusaders at the siege of Antioch in 1098 and made a similar appearance the following year at Jerusalem. In the 13th century Jacobus de Voragine, archbishop of Genova, perfected the tale in his “Legenda aurea” (The Golden Legend), the most widely read medieval book. The episode occurred in "Silene" in Libya. To appease the plague-bearing dragon that lived in their lake, the populace fed it two sheep every day, and then two children, chosen by lottery. When the king’s daughter was chosen, the townspeople refused his offer of all his gold and silver and half of his kingdom if she were spared. She was dressed as a bride and sent out to be sacrificed, but Georgios charged the dragon on horseback, seriously wounding it with his lance. He then told the princess to throw him her girdle, which he put around the dragon's neck, causing it to follow her like a tame beast on a leash. Georgios then offered to slay it if the populace converted to Christainity. The king built a church on the site where the dragon was killed, and a spring flowed from its altar with water that cured all disease. In 1222 the Synod of Oxford declared Saint George's Day a feast day in England, and by the 14th century he was the nation’s patron saint, jointly with Edward the Confessor, until 1552 when Edward VI abolished all saints' banners other than that of Georgios.
Thanks Mr Duane. Your comments are always very complete and very interesting.
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