Did Saint George exist and does it matter? Probably not. If he did exist, it would appear he was a brave hero. If he didn’t, we can create a hero in whatever form we choose.
The evidence that he did exist is gaining ground. But some mischievous writers have connected St. George with a heretical Archbishop called George of Cappadocia.
The Archbishop held beliefs that were the opposite of official church doctrine (e.g. he believed Jesus was a mere mortal, not the son of God). He also sold ‘questionable’ pork to the Roman Army and was murdered by a raging mob in 362 AD.
Linking the patron saint of England with George of Cappadocia is an attempt to undermine St. George. They want us to believe that a heretic con artist, who was murdered by local people, was made a saint and gained worldwide popularity.
This is clearly nonsense.
This fake news, most notably spread by Edward Gibbon in his book ‘The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire’ (published in 1776), is part of the prejudice against St. George of England.
George’s early life
While it’s true that little is known about St. George that doesn’t mean he never lived. Indeed, Pope Gelasius in 494AD went through an exercise of removing some of the miracles performed by saints but concluded that George was a Saint whose name is “justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God”. So Gelasius agrees little is known about him, but he also agrees that he did exist.
Although the Patron Saint of England is not George of Cappadocia, he does have links with the area in Turkey. A manuscript discovered in 1964 dating between 350-500AD states that George was the son of Cappadocian parents. His mother (Polychronia) secretly baptised him without his father (Gerointius) knowing.
He joined the Roman Army and rose rapidly, eventually entering the Imperial Service. Hungry for promotion, he traveled to Diospolis (now called Lydda or Lod in Palestine).
Some commentators suggest St. George was born in Lydda, but it seems more likely that he died there.
George’s later life and death
On reaching Lydda, he finds that Christians are being persecuted and sentenced to death. Saint George speaks out against the persecution and denounces the worship of pagan Gods such as Apollo and Heracles. He is arrested and gruesomely tortured.
Despite the torture he maintains his Christian faith, showing true courage and bravery. After witnessing his heroism many people in Lydda converted to Christianity. They too were punished.
This serves to make the story of St. George and the Dragon easier to understand. In the medieval period, an evil ruler would often be described as a dragon or serpent, and St George is fighting the dragon to maintain his faith. George also converts the people (or Princess) to Christianity and ‘saves’ them.
There is some debate on the identity of the evil tyrant. Some say it was Roman Emperor Diocletian, some say it was the Persian King Dacian (or Dadianos in Greek). You choose. Diocletian is said to have ordered St. George to be beheaded, whereas Dadianos kills George four times over a seven-year period (three times he is resurrected by the Archangel Michael and God, the final time he ascends to heaven and becomes a martyr.)
Saint George is truly a great symbol of modern England. He is possibly England’s most successful immigrant. Born in a foreign land, welcomed by the English, and has worked hard for over 800 years in his adopted country. He has integrated so well that he has come to symbolise the very essence of ‘Englishness’ and is now an English icon.