Martyr, dragon slayer, and devout Christian. Saint George is renowned worldwide as a legendary figure, but the man behind the myth offers valuable lessons on religious integrity and commitment to faith against all opposition.
St. George was born around 280 AD in Cappadocia, which is now in modern Turkey. Very little is known of his early life, but it is believed that both of his parents were Christians. After his father’s death, St. George and his mother traveled to Palestine to live. At the age of 17, St. George enlisted into the calvary of the Roman Army. He rose up the ranks and was awarded the rank of Tribunus Militum, a position which put him in charge of a regiment with around 1,000 soldiers.
St. George is most notably the patron saint of reading and books, lepers, and leprosy. He is also the patron saint of knights, armorers, equestrians, Crusaders, shepherds, soldiers, and archers. St. George is the patron saint of many countries around the world, including England, Georgia, and Ethiopia. Here are 9 fascinating facts about his life.
#1 Saint George Died in 303 AD After Being Dragged Through the Street and Beheaded
St. George survived brutal torture, was healed by Jesus, and finally died when he was beheaded in Nicomedia, Bithynia.
He was one of the earliest victims of The Diocletianic Persecution, a period starting in 303 AD of severe Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The Emperor has ordered Christians to denounce their faith and embrace the pagan Roman religion or sacrifice their citizenship and often their lives. St. George was an outspoken opponent of Emperor Diocletian’s mandates. One day, after entering the city of Nicomedia, St. George tore down the notice which detailed the Emperor’s new anti-Christian orders. After this, he resigned from his military post.
Emperor Diocletian heard that St. George tore up his orders and demanded that St. George was to be imprisoned and tortured, aiming to force a renunciation of his Christian beliefs. St. George anticipated this and distributed his property among the poor and freed his slaves.
Some accounts say that St. George was boiled in a cauldron of molten lead, others claim he was crushed between two spiked wheels. Jesus is said to have appeared to St. George during the night to heal all his wounds. St. George was then dragged through the streets of Lydda (now Lod) and beheaded.
#2 Saint George Was Canonized in 494 AD
St. George was officially canonized in 494 AD by Pope Gelasius I.
The veneration of St. George had spread through the Byzantine Empire through Lebanon in the 4th century and had become widespread in the Christian Western Roman Empire by the 5th century.
Referencing the fact that little was known about his life, Pope Gelasius I reportedly said St. George was one of those saints “whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God.”
#3 Saint George Is Venerated as a Medieval Soldier
St. George became a much-venerated saint during the Crusades, a series of religious wars between the Christians and Muslims for the control of the Holy Land between the 11th and 13th centuries.
St. George was said to have appeared before Christian forces on two occasions. The first was with the Franks before the Battle of Antioch in 1098. In 1099 another apparition of St. George appeared outside the walls of Jerusalem.
St. George’s name was reputedly invoked regularly as a battle-cry during these wars. After the Crusades, he became a symbol of courtly and chivalric honor in 13th century Europe, represented through literature and art.
St. George was venerated as a symbol of medieval romance and embodied a combination of Christian virtue and military prowess.
#4 Saint George’s Symbol and Iconography Is That of a Red Cross or of a Dragon-Slayer
The St. George’s Red Cross is the most famous symbol of St. George. A simple red cross on a white background, the cross is notably used in the English flag. Crusaders supposedly had a vision as they slept by the walls of Jerusalem that St. George appeared in white armor marked with this red cross.
St. George is often depicted battling a dragon or standing over one that has just been defeated.
St. George is also usually presented wearing a suit of armor. This is in reference to his military career as part of the Roman Empire, and his veneration as the patron saint of knights.
#5 Saint George’s Feast Day Celebration Is on April 23rd
His feast day is April 23, the date he was beheaded by Roman authorities.
Until the late 18th century, St. George’s feast day was a Roman Catholic holy day of obligation. It has since been demoted to an optional day of “Memorial.”
#6 Saint George’s Remains Are in Lydda, Israel, and Rome, Italy
St. George’s remains are in two places, with the majority in Lydda, and part of his skull in Rome.
The Church of St. George in Lydda, Israel, houses several relics attributed to St. George. The church’s crypt is said to also contain the original tomb of St. George.
The Church of San Giorgio in Velabro (Saint George in Velabro) in Rome, Italy, has part of his skull, which it keeps beneath the church’s altar.
#7 The Location of Saint George’s Major Shrine Is in Lydda, Israel
The Church of St. George in Lydda, Israel, is the most well-known shrine to St. George. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Catholics worldwide.
Westminster Cathedral, the center for the Roman Catholic Church in the UK, has a grand Chapel dedicated to St. George and English martyrs. In it, there is a beautifully carved depiction of St. George.
The Anglican Westminster Abbey houses King Edward’s Chair (also called the Coronation Chair) in St. George’s Abbey. This is the chair that every King or Queen of the UK and the Commonwealth has sat on to be coronated since 1308.
#8 Saint George Slew a Dragon
According to legend, a city was being terrorized by an angry and vicious dragon. The townspeople committed themselves to offering two sheep a day to keep the creature at bay.
When this was unsuccessful, they decided to offer one sheep and one human sacrifice. They drew lots to decide on which person would be sacrificed to the dragon, and eventually, the King’s own daughter was randomly selected. Naturally, the King bargained and begged that the lot should be redone, not being able to bear seeing his own daughter sent to her death.
The townspeople would not be swayed, as they had lost their own children to the same dragon and resented the idea that her noble heritage should save her.
St. George was said to have met the daughter before she was sent to be sacrificed. He told the townspeople and the King that if they received the sacrament of Baptism, St. George would save the city from the dragon. The whole population, including the pagan King, were baptized, and St. George bravely slew the dragon.
The story is seen as a Christian allegory, representing the replacement of pagan values for the Christian faith.
#9 Saint George’s Devotion to Jesus Led to the Death of the Emperor’s Wife
Emperor Diocletian’s own wife was said to have been so deeply moved by St. George’s refusal to denounce Christianity that she herself converted to the faith and was then executed for her faith.
St. George’s tale of a dragon-slayer and a high-ranking Roman official who explicitly defied Emperor Diocletian’s Christian persecution earns him the reputation of a man who is the epitome of bravery.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.