The Legenda aurea (“Golden Legend”), otherwise known as the Legenda sanctorum (“Readings of the Saints”), was a late-medieval bestseller by Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa.Its popularity was most likely due to the fanciful embellishments within these stories.
Stories about St. George’s reptilian adventures had been circulating for quite some time before becoming “gold-plated” by De Voragine.Originally from the East, they were later brought to the West by returning Crusaders.By the tenth century, “official” versions of them were already being depicted.De Voragine’s version is dated circa 1260 CE.
According to De Voragine, a creature as exotic as a dragon could have only come from a country as exotic as Libya.His St. George was therefore passing through Silene, Libya (don’t bother looking for it on a map) when he chanced upon a princess decked out in a bridal gown, standing by a lake.Upon closer inspection, he noticed she was trembling.Upon even closer inspection, he noticed a dragon rising from the water.
Putting two and slew together, he realized he’d better do something heroic – and fast.Fortifying himself with the Sign of the Cross, he hurtled headlong toward the lake (horse and all).His lance hit the mark, and the dragon was seriously wounded.“Princess, hand me thy girdle,” he then declared (not as shocking as it sounds, princesses were heavily layered back in those days).
The girdle ended up around the dragon’s neck (cleverly), and it was then led back to town by this makeshift collar (dramatically).The townspeople were duly terrified by this grand entry, and quivered at the sight of the dragon. St. George seized the predictable moment by proclaiming:Convert to Christianity, become baptized, and I will slay this dragon before your very eyes!
They did, he did, and they all lived happily ever after.Or did they?Read today’s headlines and decide for yourself.