The warrior saint

Daily Reading for April 23 • George, Soldier and Martyr, c. 304 and Toyohiko Kagawa, Prophetic Witness in Japan, 1960

Of the true history of St. George very little is known. When we turn to the few accurate and early accounts which have come down to us, we find that there are two claimants to the title. According to the generally accepted version, St. George was born at Lydda about the year 270 A.D., and was martyred at Nicomedia in 303. In the writings of Eusebius, a contemporary of St. George, who was Bishop of Constantinople in the year 338, the following entry is found:

“Immediately on the promulgation of the edict (of Diocletian) a certain man of no mean origin, but highly esteemed for his temporal dignities, as soon as the decree was published against the churches in Nicomedia, stimulated by a divine zeal and excited by an ardent faith, took it as it was openly placed and posted up for public inspection, and tore it to shreds as a most profane and wicked act. This, too, was done when the two Caesars were in the city, the first of whom was the eldest and chief of all, and the other held fourth grade of the imperial dignity after him. But this man, as the first that was distinguished there in this manner, after enduring what was likely to follow an act so daring, preserved his mind, calm and serene until the moment when his spirit fled.” This nameless martyr has been generally supposed to be St. George. . . .

Among other early records of St. George, we have the decree of Pope Gelasius in 494 A.D.; the Book of Martyrs of St. Gregory of Tours in the sixth century, which mentions him; the beautiful poem of Venantius Fortunatus, written in his honour in the year 500 A.D., and the dedication of the Velabro church in Rome by Leo II in the year 682 A.D. The church built over the tomb of St. George at Lydda (which existed, until recent years, in a ruinous state) has, from the earliest times, been called the work of Constantine. . . .

Although St. George was reverenced in England in Anglo-Saxon times, it was Richard I who first brought his cult to England, and Edward III who raised it to that great height of popularity which it held for so long. . . . The story runs, that Richard I, when fighting the Holy War in Palestine, also beheld the radiant figure of St. George in shining armour and a red cross, leading the armies on to victory. We know that Richard repaired the church of St. George at Lydda when in Palestine, and he certainly returned to England full of enthusiasm for the warrior Saint. In the reign of his nephew, Henry III, in 1220, St. George’s name was passed into the calendar for April 23.

From St. George for Merrie England by Margaret Hattersley Bulley (London: George Allen and Sons, 1908).

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