Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. George—Patron of England

April 23; A.D. 303

A grand patron—brave, strong, pure, a true soldier, a soldier of CHRISTas he was also a defender of his country, and of all who were in need of help or succour—is St. George of England.

The common phrase among us is, "S. George and the Dragon." I will tell you later on how this came to be; I must now begin with his early history.

St. George was born in Palestine of Christian parents. His father was an officer in the service of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, and was rarely at home, so the boy was brought up chiefly by his mother. It was from her, no doubt, that he learned to be so gentle and kind and courteous, while at the same time he was always so brave and fearless. It is known that almost all our greatest men have had good mothers, whose counsels they have listened to, and whom they have loved to obey.

George was still young when his father died; following in his steps the boy became a soldier. He soon came to be looked upon as one of the bravest knights of the day, and he was made what is termed a "military tribune," and was thus placed in a position in the State which gave him some power in the government of his country. Then came a dreadful time of persecution for the Christians. It is known in history as the Diocletian persecution, as Diocletian was the Emperor under whom it was carried on.

There is a story that the Emperor was one day in a cave consulting the Roman god Apollo. The god, of course, did not really exist, but as the Emperor stood before his statue, he believed not only that he was there listening to him, but that he was able to tell him what was likely to happen, and what he ought to do about peace and war, and other matters in the State. All this time a pagan priest stood by, inventing the answers supposed to be given by the god. Then the Emperor thought he heard a voice from the cave, saying, "The just who are on the earth prevent me from telling the truth."

"Who are these just ones?" demanded the Emperor.

"They are the Christians," was the answer.

Diocletian was enraged. He really believed it was the voice of a god, of a being who was all-powerful for good or evil, that spoke to him from the cave, and the idea that the Christians—"that new sect"—should stand in the way of his gods, was unbearable to him.

Now followed the terrible "Diocletian persecution." It was a fearful time. The Christians were hunted out of home and land, brought before the Roman judges, put to the most frightful tortures in the hope of leading them to give up their faith—beaten, burnt, put to death in the most horrible ways.

Then the knightly spirit of St. George was stirred within him. He took up the cause of the oppressed. Friends urged him to be prudent. "Your whole career is at stake," they said; "think a little of yourself, of your family; while you remain quiet, no harm will come to you. You are beloved by the Emperor; he trusts you, and will overlook your own Christianity, but beware how you give help to others."

Their words were spoken in vain. St. George knew well his own danger. What was that to him while there were distressed men and women needing his aid, while there was cruelty and injustice going on which he might perchance help to redress? Not only did the young man give all possible aid to those in trouble, he boldly went before the Emperor and pleaded the cause of the Christians.

But Diocletian was stern and cold. "Young man, think of thine own future," was all he would say, and before St. George could reply, he was seized by a body of guards and carried off to prison. Then he, too, was tortured. They threw him roughly upon the bare stone floor, made his feet fast in the stocks, and laid a heavy stone upon his chest. He did not flinch, nor did he once waver either in his own faith, or in his will to help the persecuted, should he ever again have the chance. The next day they stretched him on a wheel with sharp spokes, when it seemed to him as if he heard a voice from heaven, which said, "Fear nothing, I the LORD am with thee; "and he thought he saw near him the form of a Man clothed in white.

The Emperor himself came to beg St. George to give way; he did not answer, but asked to be taken to the temple to see the gods Diocletian worshipped. The Emperor thought the Christian knight was now at last overcome, and was about publicly to renounce his faith.

He gave orders that the Senate and all the people of Rome should come to the temple and be present at the great sacrifice which he believed St. George was about to make to the gods. Surrounded by his guards, the young man was led into the crowded building. All eyes fixed upon him, he went straight up to the figure of the god Apollo. He looked up at the image, beautiful indeed as a work of art, its lines all finely carved and moulded, its substance of the rarest marble. But as his eyes rested upon the cold, hard limbs of the figure, the scorn of his soul gleamed from them, and through the vast building rang a loud, clear, startling voice, with the words, "Thou art not GOD !" The crowd of lookers-on seemed to surge like a great wave, and suddenly the idol was seen to totter on its pedestal, and fall to the ground, crumbling into a thousand pieces.

There was a cry that St. George was a magician, a wizard, a man in league with the spirit of evil. The priests of the temple pressed the Emperor to rid himself of the "Christian knight," and the next day, on the 23rd of April, A.D. 303, he was led out to meet his death.

There are many stories that have been told, stored up, and handed down from father to son, from one family to another, about our grand old knight. I will only tell you one here: the story of "St. George and the Dragon."

St. George was on his way to a certain city in Libya. As he journeyed, he came one day upon a maiden who was weeping bitterly, and slowly walking all alone towards the hills beyond the city gates. He stopped and asked her why she wept, and why she was thus alone without the city, for he saw at once that she was no common maiden, but a young girl of high rank.

Then she told him that there lived in the hills before them a strange and monstrous beast, which came down each day into their town seeking food. Full of fear the people had given him sheep, two each day; but when after a while there were no more sheep left among them, they had been forced to give up their children, two at a time, to stay the hungry rage of the terrible creature, and save the lives of the rest of the people. Children under fifteen years of age, said the young girl, had been taken by lot, rich and poor alike, and at last the lot had fallen upon the only daughter of the king, that was herself.

At first, said she, her father would not give up his child, but the people were angry and mad with terror; they cried out that unless the king yielded his daughter, as they had given up so many of theirs, they would set fire to his palace and burn him and his family within it. He had been forced to give way, and she had come forth ready to die for her people; she had been put without the city walls, the town resounding with cries and groans as the great gates had closed upon her. Now she was walking towards her death—towards the cave of the fearful beast.

St. George listened horror-struck to the young girl's tale. When it was ended, he said quietly, Fear not, I will deliver you."

The maiden could not believe this to be within his power, or the power of any man, and she urged him to leave her to her fate, and save himself from danger.

"Fly, O noble youth! tarry not, I pray thee. Fly, fly!" she cried.

But St. George had no thought of flying. "I will save you through the might of JESUS CHRIST," he said, firmly.

And then the dragon was seen slowly crawling out from its hiding-place in the hills, and coming towards them.

"Fly, I beseech you! fly, brave knight," cried the maid once more. "I am ready to die—leave me."

But the brave St. George bade the girl give him her girdle, which was long and of fine strong silken cord, and then to stand back. Then he sprang upon the creature. There was a fierce struggle, but the knight mastered the beast, and bound him with the princess's girdle.

He went into the city and showed the people what he had done. They fell on their knees before him; tears of joy streamed from the eyes of the women and children, while the men were ready to worship him as a god. The king clasped his rescued daughter to his heart, and stood mute and breathless with emotion.

But the dragon was not yet dead, only tightly bound. St. George stood before the people and said, "It is through the grace and power of Almighty GOD, through the love of His Blessed SON JESUS CHRIST, the Saviour of mankind, that I have been enabled to do this deed. Believe now in CHRIST and be baptized, and I will slay the monster before your eyes."

Twenty thousand people became Christians in one day. They felt that the faith which could give such power and courage, and such kindness of heart to the man who had saved them, must be of GOD, must come from the true FATHER and Creator. They felt that there was nothing in all their own vain religion to equal the love which had made the young man before them ready to sacrifice himself, if need be, for the good of a people all unknown to him. They felt that the strength by which he had overcome the beast was more than human, was given by a higher power. They bowed their heads and asked to be taught to know the GOD of St. George.

The king of the city offered the young knight great riches. He took what was given him, not for himself, but for the poor oppressed Christians of his own land. Nor would he stay at the court of the king, though much pressed to do so. He went forth on his way to Palestine. How he afterwards returned again to Rome, and there so nobly suffered martyrdom, you have already read.