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Saint George and the Dragon

Updated on October 24, 2011

The Legend

The story of Saint George and the Dragon came back with the Crusaders from the East, in around the tenth or eleventh century, AD. It's a riveting tale! A hero, a damsel in distress, and a dragon...what more does any story need, to be told and re-told all down the ages.

According to the "Golden Legend" (ref. Wikipedia), the "Saint George and the Dragon " story took place in "Silene", aka, Libya.

The town had a lake or a large pond. A plague-bearing, fearsome, fire-breathing dragon lived in a cave on an island in the lake, and made the surrounding countryside just about uninhabitable.

The people of Silene made a treaty with the dragon. He would stay in his cave, and not come out, breathing fire and pestilence all over the countryside, if they fed it a sheep a year...always their BEST sheep.

When the sheep ran out, the townspeople, in desperation, started feeding the dragon their children, chosen by lottery.

Well, one year, the lot fell to the king's daughter, to make the supreme sacrifice to the dragon to save the town. Naturally, the king tried to get out of it. He begged and pleaded, he attempted to bribe the townspeople with half his kingdom and all his gold and silver.

"Nothing doing", the townspeople said. "No way."

So the king sent his daughter out to the lake, all decked out as a bride, to serve as the dragon's sacrifice.

Saint George, by an odd chance, rode past the lake. The princess, showing her true blue blood, tried to send St. George away, but he wouldn't go. He vowed to stay and face the dragon, when the dragon came out to get his annual sacrifice.

Saint George crossed himself, then charged the dragon, and gave it a mortal wound with his lance. He called to the princess to throw him her girdle, which she did, and St. George used it as a leash, to drag the dragon to town. St. George slew the dragon, and the dragon's corpse was dragged out of town in 15 carts, after being cut to pieces.

The king and all the people converted to Christianity. There were over 15, 000 baptisms over the next few days...(all men, not counting women and children). The king erected a church to theBlessed Virgin Mary and to Saint George, and from its altar a spring arose, whose waters cure all diseases...

And that's the story of Saint George and the Dragon.

The Play

The morality play, "Saint George and the Dragon" is a slightly different story.

Mummers and "guisers" (people visiting at Christmas, disguised) have been going in England since the middle ages.

They still go on--I found a picture, which I'm attempting to download, of mummers performing in front of the Exeter Cathedral, in Devon, in 1994...

These plays have survived, and are still performed by mummers in the ancient tradition. They are comic performances, sort of designed for amateurs, and the themes are a duality of good and evil (good wins, always, of course!). They often feature a doctor who revives the protagonist with a magic potion.

We have the Hero, we have the Doctor, we have a Fool, who provides comic asides and is a LOT like the interlocutor of vaudeville, a narrator of events as they are mummed (or mimed).

The name of the hero is George. Not just George, but...Saint George, or King George, or Prince George....

The name of the antagonist, or the anti-hero in the story, is MOST OFTEN (and I think this is fascinating !) the Turkish Knight. Not the dragon, but the Turkish Knight. Shades of the Crusades!

Weirdly enough, the defining moments in a mumming play are when the hero either kills or is killed by the enemy, then the doctor comes to restore (whomever!) to life. So the main theme is also resurrection!

It's a very far cry from the original story of St. George and the Dragon. It goes to show you how oral traditions change the story, over time.

Mummers in front of Exeter Cathedral, Devon, 1994


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