St George: Literary connections

Literary Connections
The fame of St George throughout Europe was greatly increased by the publication of the Legenda Sanctorum (Readings on the Saints), later known as the Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) by James of Voragine in 1265. The Legend is not explicitly about St George but to a whole collection of stories, which were said to be worth their weight in gold.
It was The Golden Legend which made the legend of George and the Dragon known and famous. The legend may have been particularly well received in England because of a similar legend in Anglo-Saxon literature.
The origin of the legend is uncertain. It first appears in the late 6th century and may have been an oblique reference to the persecution by Diocletian, who was sometimes referred to as ‘the dragon’ in ancient texts. It may also be a Christianized version of the Greek legend of Perseus, who was said to have rescued the virgin Andromeda from a sea monster at Arsuf or Jaffa), where the cult of St George grew up around the site of his supposed tomb.
Saint George is a leading character in one of the greatest poems in the English language, Spencer’s Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596). St George appears in Book 1 as the Redcrosse (sic) Knight of Holiness, protector of the Virgin. In this guise he may also be seen as the Anglican Church upholding the monarchy of Elizabeth1:
But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And dead (as living) ever he adored.
The legend of St George and the dragon took on a new lease of life during the Counter Reformation. The discoveries in Africa, India and the Americas, which maps had previously shown as populated by dragons, presented vast new fields for Church missionary work and St George was frequently used as an example of danger faced and overcome for the good of the Church. John Bunyan (1628-88), used the story of George and the Dragon. as the basis for the fight between Christian and Apollyon in Pilgrim’s progress.


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