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St. George and the Dragon

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ZPCC516
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$18.50

Size (in inches):

3 x 5

Item Details:

Much of what we know of St. George (d. circa 303 A.D.) is wrapped in legend. St. George is a very popular saint in Eastern Orthodox Churches. But George is also very highly respected among the English, who made him their country’s patron. This icon written by Sr. Mary Charles, OSB, is based on the historical icons that started to emerge in the 14th century. The depiction recounts a legend—more symbolic than historical—that St. George rescued the daughter of the king of Libya from being offered as a human sacrifice to appease a dragon terrorizing the city. Upon seeing the courage of the saint and the power of God at work in him, the citizens were converted to the faith and underwent baptism. St. George’s name day is celebrated April 23rd.

Icon holy cards are 3" x 5", a convenient size for use as gifts or bookmarks. The backs are blank except for a faint colophon at the bottom, leaving plenty of room for custom imprinting with your own message.

Image Origins

Much of what we know of St. George (d. circa 303 A.D.) is wrapped in legend. He was probably born to Christian parents and inherited lands in Palestine, where he became a Roman soldier. He was known to be a staunch Christian, and when given orders by the emperor to persecute others of the faith, he refused to obey. George was tortured, and later decapitated. His name day is celebrated April 23rd. St. George is a very popular saint in Eastern Orthodox Churches. But George is also very highly respected among the English, who made him their country’s patron. The English flag’s “Union Jack” cross is from St. George’s coat of arms. Early icons of St. George were portraits (strict iconography does not show how martyrs died, but as they are now, glorified in heaven). As his popularity spread and the stories of his life were embellished, he was depicted in more elaborate scenes riding a white horse, and even slaying a dragon. Starting in 14th century the so-called Vita (“Life”) icons of the saint became popular. This genre shows the portrait of the saint in the main panel, with smaller squares around the border depicting scenes from the saint’s life. This icon written by Sr. Mary Charles, OSB, is based on the historical icons that started to emerge in the 14th century. The depiction recounts a legend—more symbolic than historical—that St. George rescued the daughter of the king of Libya from being offered as a human sacrifice to appease a dragon terrorizing the city. Upon seeing the courage of the saint and the power of God at work in him, the citizens were converted to the faith and underwent baptism. It is possible that the slaying of the dragon may be a Christian version of the Perseus legend.

Theology and Symbolism

This image is striking for its powerful, fluid movement and at the same time its deep serenity. George’s red cape flaps behind him, which gives a sense of movement, but also calls to mind the working of the Holy Spirit that “blows where it will” (Jn 3:8). Following the lance upward, it appears as if St. George is effortlessly driving the weapon into the dragon. The mountains and even the dragon itself are rather small, making the saint appear even more monolithic.

St. George wears red, symbolizing his martyrdom. Red also denotes passion, appropriate for a saint who was a zealous defender of the faith. While other icons from this period often depict figures with very little perspective, warriors are deliberately painted as strong and vibrant characters to indicate that their strength was blessed by God.

The white horse is probably a symbol of purity, but the color also calls to mind baptismal imagery. The contrast between the white horse and the black dragon is striking; black is the traditional color used for Satan in iconography. The beast is symbolic of paganism and evil passions. The beast seems smaller than one would expect, but this is probably to show that evil is no match for good.

In the right corner of the icon is the hand of God descending to bless St. George in his endeavor. It is also an indication that St. George is acting as an agent of God’s will. The two concentric circles are called a mandorla. The blue denotes the divine (like the sky), and the darker areas in the mandorla represent uncreated light.

While the original meaning of this icon represented the conquering of paganism by Christianity, one can contemplate this icon by meditating on Christ’s triumph over the many “isms” of our contemporary culture: secularism, individualism, hedonism, relativism. One can gaze upon this image asking God for the faith and fervor of St. George who spread the Gospel in his deeds.


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