Do we really have a 4th century inscription from Sakkaia / Shaqqa dedicated to St George?

If you want to know about the origins of St George, it isn’t very long before you hear that a church inscription in Syria exists, dedicated to St George, and dating from the 4th century AD.  The details are often a bit vague; but the site is the town of Shaqqa or Shakka, ancient Sakkaia or Saccaea, sometimes called Maximianopolis, after the co-emperor of Diocletian.

Let’s have a look at this.

The inscription was published in 1870 as entry 2158, vol. 2, p.505-6, by Waddington in his Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie.[1]  He lists it as Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum 8609, although I find it quoted as CIG 8603.  Here’s Waddington’s drawing:

He says that the inscription was on a large stone, broken into two pieces, lying in front of the liwan of the sheikh.  The middle contained a cross in a circle which had been “hammered”.  He also says the text was better preserved when Burkhardt saw it.

Thanks to the genius of Pawel Nowakowski and the CSLA,  we can have a transcription and translation here, with an image of Burkhardt’s drawing:

+ οἶκος ἁγίων ἀθλοφόρων μαρτύρων Γεωργίου καὶ τῶν σὺν αὐτῷ ἁγίων. ἐ[κ π]ρ[οσφ]ωρ(ᾶς) Τιβερίνου ἐπισκ(όπου), ἔκτισεν ἐκ θεμελίων τὼ ίε[ρ]ατῖον καὶ τὴν π[ρ]ο[σ]θή[κ]ην τοῦ ναοῦ, ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιε΄, ἔτους σξγ΄, σπουδῇ δὲ Γεωργίου καί Σεργίου μεγάλου διακ(όνων)

+ The house of the holy prize-winning martyrs: George and his holy companions. From the offerings of bishop Tiberinos. (He?) built the sanctuary and the aisles (prostheke) of the church from the foundations. 15th indiction, year 263. By the efforts of the deacons Georgios and Sergios the Great.

I have highlighted the era in use, the ἔκτους τῆς πόλεως.

The question is what the year 263 might refer to, in years AD.  This is not simple.  Waddington suggested that it couldn’t be in the era of Bostra, which would make it 368 AD, as the indiction number was wrong.  But this was the only date Waddington attempted, and consequently it passed into literature.

Y.E. Meimaris, Chronological Systems in Roman-Byzantine Palestine, (1992) p.321, (online here), discusses several inscriptions from Shaqqa and attempts to work out the local era.  But in fact it was J. Koder and M. Restle who worked out that the era must start with the acclamation of Maximian Herculius as Caesar in 286.[2].

So year 263 of Maximianopolis would be 549 AD; quite a lot later than many books and websites suggest.

There is a wrinkle on this; that 549 is not the 15th indiction.  So we have to correct for this also; either the year is wrong, or the indiction is.  This gives a range of possible dates between 549 and 567.[3]

The actual inscription has not been seen since Waddington.  But it is the dedication of a church, and the remains of the building are known.  Pascale Clauss-Balty, “La kalybé de Hayat (Syrie du Sud)”, in: Syria: Archéologie, art et histoire, 85 (2008) (Online here) identifies it as one of a series of temple types called “kalybé”, some of them visited in the 19th century by Vogüé.  He adds (p.262):

In Byzantine times, the kalybé of Shaqqa was transformed into a martyrion dedicated to Saint George. Vogüé states that the altar had been placed under the dome, behind a wooden fence whose post-holes he could still see in the piers of the central bay. In front of the facade, there was also a kind of vestibule (pl. 11), the northern limit of which was to correspond to that of a levelled area still in place.

It is the lintel of the entrance to this vestibule which bore the inscription seen by Waddington in 1860 and which attributed to Bishop Tiberinus the construction of the small sanctuary, placing in the year 263 of the local era the completion of the works, i.e. in 549, 550 or 565. Butler merely reproduces the Vogüé plan and section and adds some minor information.

The sober profile of the mouldings, the resemblance with the kalybé of Umm az-Zeitun and the membership of the same program as the Kaisariyeh allow us to date the kalybé of Shaqqa of the 2nd half of the 3rd century.

This is good news, as we can have a look at the building.  Vogue is online, but the contents have been scanned poorly and the images are better in the Clauss-Balty article.[4]  Here’s the facade from the north and the floor-plan:

And here a modern image from the same article:

But it is easy enough to find more online.  Not sure who the author of the first one might be…?

Ross Burns is in fact an author on Syrian monuments, and this comes from his website, monuments of Syria.  Googling using the Arabic name for Shaqqa (found on Wikipedia as “شقا“) produced a few more:

It looks as if the lintel was removed, the central arch collapsed, and the modern house was built in the ruin at some subsequent date.  Is the Vogue drawing a reconstruction, I wonder?  He states (vol.1 p.42) that the covering of the central aisle has fallen.  But the poor quality scan of the images makes it impossible for me to say.

I do wonder where that inscription is.  It’s probably in a wall, somewhere in the town.  If only one could visit and just ask!

It is interesting to see this pagan temple, rededicated to St George in the 6th century.  But the date of dedication is not the earliest known, in fact.  This we will discuss in another post.

  1. [1]Online here.  You can find the relevant portions on p.87 and p.257 of the PDF.
  2. [2]J. Koder and M. Restle, “Die Ara von Sakkaia (Maximianoupolis) in Arabia”, Jahrbuch OB 42 (1992), 79-81.  I have been unable to obtain access to this, but Frank R. Trombley, Hellenic Religion and Christianization: C. 370-529, p.344, gives us the info.
  3. [3]See the CSLA discussion for details.
  4. [4]De Vogue, Syrie centrale. Architecture civile et religieuse du Ier au VIIe siècle, Paris (1865-77); vol 1 vol 2

Help at last! A FREE database with all the references to the Saints and their cult before 700 AD!

For the last few weeks I have been trying to find out about St George.  Starting from nothing, I want to know when the first mentions of him are, what literary texts are available, etc.  It’s been amazingly hard work, poring over century-old German monographs, the Acta Sanctorum, trying to find more recent works, and so forth.  Hagiography is dreadful to work with; and where on earth do you start, trying to find out inscriptions and church dedications?  Who knows??

But this week I discovered a mighty, mighty aid to my quest:  The Cult of the Saints in Late Antiquity project. This is a massive database, which contains every reference in the historical record to a saint, up to around 700 AD.  The “about” page and the “search” pages are here:

So what’s in here?  An entry can be a list of all the data for a saint, such as Saint George.  With a bit of fiddling, you find that he is S00259, and you get a list of data points back, in chronological order:

Not everything is completed yet.  The greyed-out entries – which are still useful, note – are yet to be written.  But so much is done.  Each entry is a text, a translation into English, some discussion, maybe a photograph if they had one, and a very up-to-date bibliography.  Note that this is not just Greek and Latin; Armenian, Coptic, Syriac and Georgian sources are also included!

Since I have been searching for some time for information on one inscription, I am painfully aware of how much labour must have been undertaken to produce an entry far more up-to-date than anything that I had been able to obtain.  Frankly it’s gold.  You will save yourself so much effort.

I have yet to use it for its design purpose, tho, of picking up cross-references.  This, I imagine, is where the database design will really pay dividends for researchers.  I heartily approve.

The entries are becoming visible in Google, which is how I became aware of the project.  Make your obscure query for some Syrian church, and you may well get a line from this database appear.  I hope that the links are indeed permanent, for this is quite a resource.  Usefully each page indicates how it should be referenced for publication (although more should be done to this, I think).  I hope that the pages get archived at as well; the last thing we need is for material to vanish offline in 5-10 years time.

If you have any interest in hagiography at all, you need to get familiar with this site.  It’s simply the best tool to hit the hardware department since the Acta Sanctorum.

The contributors are listed here; many of the names will be familiar, all doing very good work.  The project leader is Bryan Ward-Perkins.

I truly approve of this site.  It’s accessible to ordinary chaps like you and I, all around the world.  It’s something that would have been unthinkable before the internet.  Johannes Bollandus and Daniel Papebroch would have given their eye-teeth for it.

This site almost justifies the existence of Oxford University all by itself; for it gives access to the fruits of so much learning to so very many more people than could ever research it themselves.  Words fail me.  Use it.

The oldest dateable inscription mentioning St George

The first evidence in the archaeology of St George is from a little church in Syria, in a town called Izra, or Izraa, or Ezra, or Ezraa, or Zorava, with the usual Semitic indifference to vowels, and the usual consequent confusion.

Here is the relief, in a nice new modern photograph from here.  I spent a profitable hour thrashing Google before I located it.

Basilica of St. George (515 AD) – Ezra’ a, Syria

The text is as follows:

θεοῦ γέγονεν οἶκος τὸ τῶν δαιμόνων καταγώγιον·
φῶς σωτήριον ἔλαμψεν, ὅπου σκότος ἐκάλυπτεν·
ὅπου θυσίαι εἰδώλων, νῦν χοροὶ ἀγγέλων·
ὅπου θεὸς παρωργίζετο, νῦν θεὸς ἐξευμενίζεται.
ἀνήρ τις φιλόχριστος, ὁ πρωτεύων Ἰωάννης, Διομηδέως υἱός,
ἐξ ἰδίων δώρον θεῷ προσήνεγκεν ἀξιοθέατον κτίσμα
ἱδρύσας ἐν τούτῳ τοῦ καλλινίκου ἁγίου μάρτυρος Γεωργίου
τὸ τίμιον λίψανον τοῦ φανέντος αὐτῷ ἸωάννῃS
οὐ καθ’ ὕπνον, ἀλλὰ φανερῶς. ἐν ἔτι θ΄ ἔτους υ̣ι[.]΄

The abode of demons has become the house of God. The light of salvation shines where darkness caused concealment. Where sacrifices to idols occurred, now there are choirs of angels. Where God was provoked, now He is propitiated. A certain Christ-loving man, the town-councillor (proteuon) Ioannes, son of Diomedes, offered a beautiful building to God from his own offerings, after installing within it the worthy relic (leipsanon) of the martyr George, who appeared to this Ioannes not in a dream, but manifestly. In the 9th (indiction?) year. The year 410 (?).

The era is not AD, of course, which had yet to be invented, but the era of the Arabian province.  This gives a date of 515 AD.

This splendid transcription, and much else, I owe to Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity Database, E01754 –  This had a wretched photograph, from IGLS 15/1, 244, which shows what rubbish scholars have to endure:

After seeing it, I was determined to try to find a better image.  Searching for Izra St George brought up quite a few images of the church, such as this:

The Wikipedia article for Izra has another.  It also had a link to Google maps, showing a reddish sand desert in which the modern town stands.

It shows the importance of uploading high resolution images.  The author of the inscription photo above had no intention of photographing it.  But his image of the west door of the church was of sufficiently high resolution that I was able to excerpt that picture above.  Marvellous!

Suddenly a light shines – something at last on the Martyrdom of St George!

I’ve been trudging through Krumbacher and another heavy old German tome, running the text into English and looking for pointers to understand the mass of literature about the Passio or Martyrdom of St George.  While these give a great deal of detail, the beginner would often be grateful for a roadmap.

Today, quite by accident, I came across an article in two parts which illuminated a great deal.  A google search introduced me to two articles in the Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, (list of volumes online here), in vol. 17 (1903) and vol. 18 (1904).  This is John E. Matzke, “Contributions to the History of the Legend of Saint George, with Special Reference to the Sources of the French, German and Anglo-Saxon Metrical Versions”.  Not all older US literature is worth reading; but these are gold.  They also publish various versions of the Passio.

But their real value is in allowing us to understand what happened to the legend.

The various editions of the Passio can be distinguished by variations in the story.  In particular the name of the emperor who is in charge at the start of the text varies; and varies over time.

The earliest form known to us is a mention in the Decretum Gelasianum, in which a passio of St George is condemned roundly as a disreputable heretic forgery.  It seems that we may have this version.  In the earliest texts, the emperor is called “Datianus” or “Dacianus”.  The trial takes place in Egypt, and the emperor summons a sorcerer named – what else? – Athanasius – to cast wicked spells against the miracles of St George.  Finally the passio is attributed to George of Cappadocia.

Now the real George of Cappadocia was a rather dubious Arian, who got himself appointed as fake-bishop of Alexandria while the real Athanasius was in exile, only to get lynched by the Alexandrian mob in the times of Julian the Apostate.  So any “martyrdom of George of Cappadocia” is likely to be Arian.  The name of Athanasius as a villain is likewise an Arian thing.  Finally we may consider that throughout the 5th century the church writers inveigh against Arianism as the worst of heresies; no doubt influenced by their fear of the Arian Goths then taking over the empire.

Matzke’s theory, then, is that this text is extant, in various forms, and the name of Dacian is the fingerprint for it.  This he calls the “apocryphal version”, and it was clearly popular.

He suggests that a “canonical version” was produced by some educated man who made the emperor into Diocletian – someone who actually existed! – and otherwise revised it.  This then underwent further editions and revisions.

But the apocryphal version still existed, albeit in various forms, especially in the west.  One edition changed the name from Dacian to Decius; in one version the name change only appears in the opening sections of the work, and reverts to Dacian later on.

All this I got from a quick read of part 1 this afternoon in the office while waiting for a long build to finish.  I suspect part 2 might deal with the vernacular, and be less interesting.

I can’t say if this is correct.  But if so, it makes for an interesting view of how the text evolved!  I need to read more.

I must say that I am surprised by the lack of references to modern scholarship on St George.  They must exist, surely?

The 13 miracles of St George

The literary texts about St George the Megalomartyr preserved in the medieval manuscripts naturally include the story of his martyrdom and death.

But with this is also preserved an ever-growing collection of miracle stories.  These were summarised by J.B. Aufhauser in 1911 in his Das Drachenwunder des heiligen George in der griechischen und lateinischen Überlieferung, (online here) in which he also edited two of the miracles: that of the dragon, and that of the demon.  The others, I believe, he edited in Teubner in 1913 under the title Miracula S. Georgii; but this I have not been able to access.

The collection appears in manuscripts which date from the 11th-18th century.  I have seen references online to “number 6”, etc, so I think this summary from Aufhauser may well be useful.  I believe that in Coptic as many as 80 miracles may be listed; but I have yet to investigate these.

These are the thirteen miracles of St George.

    *    *    *    *

The oldest manuscript containing a collection of miracles known to Aufhauser was the 11th century Cod. Paris 1604, parchment., 293 folios long. The manuscript is a homiliary, but it also contains many hagiographical texts.  The martyrdom of St George (type B1) is on f. 141-70, followed by the first three miracle reports.

1.  Of the Widow’s Pillar: In Palestine, a king in the hometown of the saint, where also his relics rest, for honor sought to rebuild a church. Even a widow wanted to contribute a pillar; but her gift was spurned. Grieving she then petitioned the saint. There appeared to her an armed horseman and asked her for the reason of her complaint. She told him the offense she suffered. The knight wrotes down her wish that her pillar will be the second on the right side of the temple, on the pillar itself. This was wonderfully brought to the site and the chief engineer, filled with astonishment at the widow’s faith, fulfilled the command engraved on the column.

2. Of the pierced picture: The Saracens once plundered this hometown of the saint and desecrated his church. Even against the images of the saints, they turned their spears. A prisoner scolded them, and the more because St. George, to whom the church was consecrated, had been an invincible warrior. At the question of the unbelievers, he showed them his image. Then one threw his lance against the picture; but it bounced back and hit the sinner in the middle of the heart. He sank dead to the ground; the others saw the picture stretch out its hand. They fled in horror, proclaiming with fear the power inherent in the image.

3. Of the captive youth from Paphlagonia: On a campaign the Agarenes (= Saracens as descendants of Hagar) once captured many in Paphlagonia. Among these was a young man who served in the temple of St. George at Phatris. Brought before the army commanders, some were beheaded, others sentenced to slavery.Theyouth was destined for the service of the general because of his beauty. Because he did not want to be unfaithful to his faith, he was degraded to serve the cooks, to carry water, and to chop wood. In his distress he turned to St George. At one evening, when he went to his camp, he heard his name outside the court. He opened and faced a rider.  He leaned down to him as if to hug him. Instead, he took him up on his horse, rode off, and took him to a strange house. Then he disappeared. The youth sank into a deep sleep. Early in the morning, one of the house-folks found him in his Agarese clothing and shouted in horror. For his part, the youth recognized the man in his spiritual costume as a Christian and a monk. He saw himself again in the temple of St. George, from whom he had been kidnapped. Everyone praised God for the miraculous rescue of the prisoner.

In the epilogue, the author emphasizes that he has told few of the many miracles, so as not to arouse disbelief and weariness. It would be easier to count the sand on the sea or the stars of the sky than any wonders that the saint himself or through others had worked. With high praises he then turns to the saint for intercession, so that he, too, can obtain eternal life in Christ, to whom honour and adoration are eternal.

Another 11th century manuscript from 1023 AD (Cod. Mosquensis bibl. syn. 381 (Wlad.), parchment, 367 folios) is similar but somewhat expanded.  It has a long introduction, followed by the same three stories, in the same order although not verbally identical.  Then another miracle story is given, which is really a revised version of the third:

4. Of the captive George, son of the army commander Leo in Paphlagonia. In Paphlagonia, St. George receives special worship. With great confidence one made a pilgrimage to his church at the spot.   Also the army commander Leo Phocas and his wife Theophano carry a special devotion to the saint. When a boy was born to them, they baptized him in that church in the name of the saint. Later, they gave him to the local priest for instruction in theology.   The western pagan peoples invaded the country: Bulgarians, Hungarians, Scythians, Medes and Turks. Only through the protection of God did the city escape destruction. At the Emperor’s command, a revenge expedition was set up and Leo was to lead it. Because of his old age, he sent his son George, who was just entering the age of youth. Before that, he recommended him in that church to the protection of the saint. His parents prayed for him day and night. But the invasion of the barbarian lands failed, a punishment of godlessness. Those who were not slain or devoured by the sea or crushed by horses died in captivity of famine. George was appointed to serve the army commander because of his beauty.

The parents went home full of bitter complaints and unwilling grumbling against the saint, even in his church. Above all, his mother was heartbroken when she saw her son’s peers. George also assailed the saints for help in his captivity. There came the anniversary of the saint; all the more, they begged him for salvation. During the celebration of joy on the occasion of the feast, the talk was only of George, who only a year before was among the festivities; and everyone was full of deep pain.

The same day George was busy at the oven. His memories were at home at the feast. Then his comrades ordered him to bring a vessel, called a koukomion, full of hot food to his master. But the vessel carried him into the air and in a moment it set him down in the middle of the feast of his father’s house. At the sight of his Bulgarian clothing and the steaming koukomion everyone cried out; horrified, his parents crashed to the floor. When George got himself together, he told how, just as a prisoner in the Bulgarian country, he wanted to bring this koukomion to his master; but an (…) had brought him here in a moment through the skies over the sea. In vain was the savior sought. His parents were also recovering and everyone was full of joy and thanks for St George. But a further miracle! Everyone was satisfied by the food brought. Then they went to the church of the saint, to thank him and to ask forgiveness for the grumbling. The koukomion they gave in the temple as a sacrificial chalice. At that time George was still a youth. But now, when he grew old, he told this miracle that had once happened to him.

Note that in both of these 11th century manuscripts the Dragon miracle is not given, and was presumably unknown to the compilers.  Further stories appear in later manuscripts:

5). Of the runaway oxen of Theopistos. In the time of Emperor Theodosios, there lived in Cappadocia a man named Theopistos; his wife was called Eusebeia. They were childless. Seven years after their marriage, Theopistos once on 20 May hitched a pair of oxen on the yoke to plough. But he fell asleep and the oxen ran away. All searching was in vain. At the request of a neighbor he called St. George for help with a promise to sacrifice his oxen. At night the saint appeared to him and showed him the disappeared animals. To thank the farmer slaughtered a buck. But the saint was not satisfied with that and demanded redemption of the promise. Even the sacrifice of a sheep and a lamb could not satisfy him, since, as the saint declared in a new apparition, it would not correspond to his dignity as komes. He now demanded the oxen and all the sheep. Theopistos now sought to interpret the apparitions as a ghost in order to escape his obligation. Then the saint again showed himself to him, this time … and threatened him with destruction by fire if the promise were not fulfilled. Now Theopistos slaughtered all his animals. Then twice thirty riders sprang up and announced the approach of the komes. He himself appeared on a white horse. Well, he said, he knew that the sacrifice was to St George; but his name is George and he is also from Cappadocia. Now everyone was satisfied with the sacrificial dishes. Out of the bones, however, the komes again formed the oxen of Theopistos. The other goods of the farmer were also increased, in addition he was given seven sons and three girls. He gratefully built a church for the saint. After 22 years, he died and was buried in that church with his wife, who followed him to death after seven days.

6. The vision of the Saracen during the liturgy and his conversion. The army commander Nikolaos Julas said: The Emir of Syria sent his cousin to a city called by the Saracens Ampelon. There was a famous church of St. George. The Saracen ordered his luggage brought inside under shelter there, including the camels. The priests tried in vain to dissuade him. The camels also fell dead when entering the sanctuary. The hour of the liturgy approached. The Saracen stayed there and saw in the hands of the priest a child, who was later eaten by the priest and those present. In the distribution of the Eulogies he announced to the priest his indignation that one is tormenting a child.  He was astonished at the vision, taught the stranger in faith, and sent him to be baptized to the monks of Sinai. He became a monk (called Pachumios) and stayed there for three years. Then he returned to that priest to look again at the child. But he sent him to the Saracens to announce their faith. Before his cousin, the Emir, he confessed himself as a Christian and a monk. But his conversion attempts failed: instead he was  stoned by the Saracens.

This miraculous account is usually attributed to Gregory Dekapolites (died 817), sometimes to a monk Markos, of whom we know only the name.

7. The punishment of an atrocity of a Saracen to the image of the saint and the conversion of the wicked. Some saracens once came to a church of the saint where the liturgy had just ended. At the sight of the image of St. George one of them threw a lance inside and hurled it against the picture. But it bounced back and hit his own hand. At home he asked the Christians about the power of the picture. They directed him to the priest. He explained to him the worship of the church, told him the life story of George and promised him a healing of the hand, even though he adored the image. He was in fact healed. Then he read the story of the suffering of the saint and was baptized. For the proclamation of faith in the Saracens, he himself suffered martyrdom.

This also is a version of #2 above.

8. Of the murdered soldier. At the time of the war against the Turks, a general once took his army to Syria. From here he sent a soldier home with a lot of gold and silver. On the way he stayed overnight in a hermitage dedicated to St. George. The hermit let himself be seduced by the gold, murdered the sleeping soldier and dismembered him. In the meantime, the wife of the soldier saw at home in the dream the danger in which her husband was hovering. At daybreak she hurried to the church of the saint at his grave and pleaded for help. The saint rode to the hermit and asked for the remains of the soldier. No denial was accepted. George resuscitated the chopped-up masses of flesh and sent the soldier to the army with the money. At home the soldier recounted the misfortune suffered, the woman the dream, and both praised God and the miracle worker George.

9. Of the captive youth of Mytilene. On the island of Mytilene there was a church of the saint. Cretan corsairs once wanted to invade the island. They chose the anniversary of the saint on which all the people were in the church. Anyone who was hit at home was captured, even the son of a widow. He was young and very beautiful; therefore he became servant of the Emir of Crete. The widow, however, besieged the saint for help. When the young man once wanted to do his duty as cup-bearer at noon, George carried him home to his mother. And they praised God and his saints.

This is a simpler version of #3 and #4; also the scene is changed.

10. Of the pancake. In Paphlagonia was a church of the saint; it was destroyed. George wanted her rebuilding. Children once played in the square. One of them could never win. He was laughed at by the others. In his distress he turned to the saint and promised him a cake of eggs. Then the child was granted the victory, and he brought forth his still steaming gift. Three fishermen came to the temple to perform their devotions. They ate the food. As punishment, they fell to the ground and could only rise again when each of them had promised to sacrifice a guilder (florion).

11. Of Manuel, the man with the consecration gifts. A brief introduction first calls for the purification of all defilement in order to dignify the feasts of the saints. Then begins the narrative: In Paphlagonia, near the metropolis of Gangra, stands in a placed called Didia a highly revered church of St. George. A man of the village called Leo had a son Manuel. Both had great confidence in St. George. Every year the son also made a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Archangel Michael in Chonae. There he also brought consecration gifts of other pious people. Once he had gifts worth a pound of gold. One evening, exhausted from the pilgrimage, he could no longer reach the village where he used to spend the night. When the night came, he saw a spark of fire in a valley. He found a house, a robber’s den, in which a robber hid himself with his wife and son. Only the woman was at home, the other two were gone to steal. Manuel asked for a hostel. The woman investigated him. When she heard of the consecrations, she also pretended piety and said that they wanted to make the pilgrimage with him. Then she led him inside and invited him to rest. She closed the door and waited for her husband and son. These came downcast and reported on their futile raid. The woman laughed at her and told her about her effortless catch. Manuel heard everything in his room. Full of pain, he pleaded with St. George for help. He was led out and had to tell everything. After the meal, they set off. The two robbers led him on impassable paths, and tried to drown him in a river. In the greatest distress he called again on St. George. There was a lightning flash, and the two fiends plunged into the river. He led Manuel on his horse to the church of the Archangel and ordered him to return home and proclaim God’s goodness. At the same hour the saint appeared before the robber’s den. When asked about the whereabouts of the stranger, the woman replied that he had gone to Chonae with her husband and son after the meal. Then fire fell from the sky and left everything in ruins. The man sacrificed his gifts in Chonae and returned to his native land, where he spent the rest of his life in humility and penance.

Related to #8.

12. The Dragon Miracle.

13.  The miracle of the unmasked demon.

#13 often appears with #12.  No summary of either is given by Aufhauser, but texts of both are printed in various versions.

    *    *    *    *

What are we to make of these items?  Obviously all of them are folk-story.  None is history or biography.

While reading them, I was reminded of a comment by a friend in my college days, about a big Christian bible-week.  “I hear they had angels at the Dales again this year.”  I have no opinion on whether angels really did appear at the bible-week in 1981.  The point is that a climate existed in which my friend could repeat what was plainly a story going around, without obvious embarrassment.  Indeed it was a “nice story” to him, a sign of God at work in the lives of his people.

Looked at in this life, the stories given above are of the same type.  Some problem in life is met with prayer to Saint George.  The saint responds, and the grateful recipient tells others how his prayer was answered.

Over time the story gets embroidered.  This happens whenever a story is passed from mouth to mouth, even today; and in ages when exact accuracy was not really valued, it must have happened more.  In fact we can see an example of this happening above, in the two stories where a Saracen throws his spear at an icon of St George.

In one version it bounces off the hard wall and hurts his hand.  In a revised version it bounces off and hits him straight through the heart; and bystanders see the hand of the saint move.  Oral transmission is quite enough to account for the embroidery.  The point is a people looking to see God and his Saints at work in the incidents of everyday, just as a modern Christian would.

The story of St George and the dragon is a different matter, qualitatively.  I hope to post more on this.

The standard English “Life” of St George – by Jacobus de Voragine

St George is one of only two medieval saints to make it through the reformation and still be celebrated in modern England; the other being St Nicholas, of course.  But few could name the sources for whatever legends are told.

There seems little doubt that modern ideas about the saint derive from the 13th century best-seller, the Legenda Aurea or Golden Legend, a compilation of Saints’ Lives by Jacobus de Voragine.  So this seems like a good place to start.

An 1850 Latin text of this[1] can be found at Google Books here, commencing on p.259 with the words (i.e. the incipit) “Georgius dicitur a geos, quod est terra, et orge, quod est colere, quasi colens terram, id est carnem suam.”

The English translation of the Golden Legend, by Caxton, updated in the 1901 Everyman edition, can be found at here.  St George is in volume 3, p.125 f.

The handbook of Latin hagiography, the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, vol. 1, gives the number BHL 3395 to this text (vol.1, p.506, Passio version 3.h).  Apparently there is mention of it in Douhet, Dictionnaire des legends (Paris, 1855), 429-36.

Of course there may well be more recent editions, translations, and scholarship.  These are what I can gather from the web.

As it is not too long, let’s give that text here.  I’ve modernised a few words, but mostly I have left the old-fashioned English alone.  If this is unreadable, let me know in the comments.

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Of St George, Martyr, and first the interpretation of his name.

George is said of geos, which is as much to say as earth, and orge that is tilling. So George is to say as tilling the earth, that is his flesh. And S. Austin saith, in libro de Trinitate that, good earth is in the height of the mountains, in the temperance of the valleys, and in the plain of the fields. The first is good for herbs being green, the second to vines, and the third to wheat and corn. Thus the blessed George was high in despising low things, and therefore he had verdure in himself, he was temperate by discretion, and therefore he had wine of gladness, and within he was plane of humility, and thereby put he forth wheat of good works. Or George may be said of gerar, that is holy, and of gyon, that is a wrestler, that is an holy wrestler, for he wrestled with the dragon. Or George is said of gero, that is a pilgrim, and gir, that is detrenched out, and ys, that is a councillor. He was a pilgrim in the sight of the world, and he was cut and detrenched by the crown of martyrdom, and he was a good councillor in preaching. And his legend is numbered among other scriptures apocryphal in the council of Nicene, because his martyrdom hath no certain relation. For in the calendar of Bede it is said that he suffered martyrdom in Persia in the city of Diaspolin, and in other places it is read that he resteth in the city of Diaspolin which before was called Lydda, which is by the city of Joppa or Japh. And in another place it is said that he suffered death under Diocletian and Maximian, which that time were emperors. And in another place under Diocletian emperor of Persia, being present seventy kings of his empire. And it is said here that he suffered death under Dacian the provost, then Diocletian and Maximian being emperors.

Here followeth the Life of S. George Martyr.

S. George was a knight and born in Cappadocia. On a time he came in to the province of Libya, to a city which is said Silene. And by this city was a stagne or a pond like a sea, wherein was a dragon which envenomed all the country. And on a time the people were assembled for to slay him, and when they saw him they fled. And when he came nigh the city he venomed the  people with his breath, and therefore the people of the city gave to him every day two sheep for to feed him, because he should do no harm to the people, and when the sheep failed there was taken a man and a sheep. Then was an ordinance made in the town that there should be taken the children and young people of them of the town by lot, and every each one as it fell, were he gentle or poor, should be handed over when the lot fell on him or her. So it happed that many of them of the town were then handed over, until the lot fell upon the king’s daughter, whereof the king was sorry, and said unto the people: “For the love of the gods take gold and silver and all that I have, and let me have my daughter.” They said: “How sir! ye have made and ordained the law, and our children be now dead, and ye would do the contrary. Your daughter shall be given, or else we shall burn you and your house.”

When the king saw he might no more do, he began to weep, and said to his daughter: Now shall I never see thine espousals. Then returned he to the people and demanded eight days’ respite, and they granted it to him. And when the eight days were passed they came to him and said: “Thou seest that the city perisheth.” Then did the king do array his daughter like as she should be wedded, and embraced her, kissed her and gave her his benediction, and after, led her to the place where the dragon was.

When she was there S. George passed by, and when he saw the lady he demanded the lady what she made there and she said: “Go ye your way. fair young man, that ye perish not also.” Then said he: “Tell to me what have ye and why weep ye, and doubt ye of nothing.” When she saw that he would know, she said to him how she was handed over to the dragon. Then said S. George: “Fair daughter, doubt ye nothing hereof for I shall help thee in the name of Jesu Christ.” She said: “For God’s sake, good knight, go your way, and abide not with me, for ye may not deliver me.” Thus as they spake together the dragon appeared and came running to them, and S. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. And after said to the maid: “Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard.” When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair. Then she led him into the city, and the people fled by mountains and valleys, and said: “Alas! alas! we shall be all dead.” Then S. George said to them: “Do not fear anything, without more delay, believe ye in God, Jesu Christ, and be baptized and I shall slay the dragon.” Then the king was baptized and all his people, and S. George slew the dragon and smote off his head, and commanded that he should be thrown in the fields, and they took four carts with oxen that drew him out of the city.

Then were there well fifteen thousand men baptized, without women and children, and the king did do make a church there of our Lady and of S. George, in which yet rises a fountain of living water, which healeth sick people that drink thereof. After this the king offered to  S. George as much money as there might be numbered, but he refused all and commanded that it should be given to poor people for God’s sake; and enjoined the king four things, that is, that he should have charge of the churches, and that he should honour the priests and hear their service diligently, and that he should have pity on the poor people, and after, kissed the king and departed.

Now it happened that in the time of Diocletian and Maximian, who were emperors, was so great persecution of Christian men that within a month were martyred well twenty-two thousand, and therefore they had so great dread that some reneged and forsook God and did sacrifice to the idols.

When S. George saw this, he left the habit of a knight and sold all that he had, and gave it to the poor, and took the habit of a Christian man, and went into the middle of the paynims and began to cry: All the gods of the paynims and gentiles be devils, my God made the heavens and is very God. Then said the provost to him: Of what presumption cometh this to thee, that thou sayest that our gods be devils ? And say to us what thou art and what is thy name. He answered anon and said: I am named George, I am a gentleman, a knight of Cappadocia, and have left all for to serve the God of heaven. Then the provost enforced himself to draw him unto his faith by fair words, and when he might not bring him thereto he raised him on a gibbet; and so much beat him with great staves and broches of iron, that his body was all broken in pieces.

And after he did do take brands of iron and join them to his sides, and his bowels which then appeared he did do fret with salt, and so sent him into prison, but our Lord appeared to him the same night with great light and comforted him much sweetly. And by this great consolation he took to him so good heart that he doubted no torment that they might make him suffer. Then, when Dacian the provost saw that he might not surmount him, he called his enchanter and said to him: “I see that these Christian people fear not our torments.” The enchanter bound himself, upon his head to be smitten off, if he overcame not his crafts. Then he did take strong venom and meddled it with wine, and made invocation of the names of his false gods, and gave it to S. George to drink. S. George took it and made the sign of the cross on it, and anon drank it without it grieving him any thing. Then the enchanter made it more stronger than it was before of venom, and gave it him to drink, and it grieved him nothing. When the enchanter saw that, he kneeled down at the feet of S. George and prayed him that he would make him Christian. And when Dacian knew that he was become Christian he made to smite off his head. And after, on the morn, he made S. George to be set between two wheels, which were full of swords, sharp and cutting on both sides, but anon the wheels were broken and S. George escaped without hurt. And then commanded Dacian that they should put him in a caldron full of molten lead, and when S. George entered therein, by the virtue of our Lord it seemed that he was in a bath well at ease. Then Dacian seeing this began to assuage his ire, and to flatter him by fair words, and said to him: “George, the patience of our gods is over great unto thee which hast blasphemed them, and done to them great despite, then fair, and right sweet son, I pray thee that thou return to our law and make sacrifice to  the idols, and leave thy folly, and I shall enhance thee to great honour and worship.” Then began S. George to smile, and said to him: “Wherefore saidst thou not to me thus at the beginning? I  am ready to do as thou sayest.” Then was Dacian  glad and made to cry over all the town that all the people should assemble for to see George make sacrifice which so much had striven there against. Then was the city arrayed and feast kept throughout all the town, and all came to the temple for to see him.

When S. George was on his knees, and they supposed that he would have worshipped the idols, he prayed our Lord God of heaven that he would destroy the temple and the idol in the honour of  his name, for to make the people to be converted.

And anon the fire descended from heaven and burnt the temple, and the idols, and their priests, and then the earth opened and swallowed all the cinders and ashes that were left. Then Dacian made him to be brought before him, and said to him: “What be the evil deeds that thou hast done, and also great untruth?” Then said to him S. George: “Ah, sir, believe it not, but come with me and see how I shall sacrifice.” Then said Dacian to him : “I see well thy fraud and thy deception, thou wilt make the earth to swallow me, like as thou hast the temple and my gods.” Then said S. George: “O caitiff, tell me how may thy gods help thee when they may not help themselves!” Then was Dacian so angry that he said to his wife: I shall die for anger if I may not surmount and overcome this man. Then said she to him : “Evil and cruel tyrant! seest thou not the great virtue of the Christian people? I said to thee well that thou shouldst not do to them any harm, for their God fighteth for them, and know thou well that I will become Christian.” Then was Dacian much abashed and said to her: “Wilt thou be Christian?” Then he took her by the hair, and did do beat her cruelly. Then demanded she of S. George: “What may I become because I am not christened?” Then answered the blessed George: “Fear thee nothing, fair daughter, for thou shalt be baptized in thy blood.” Then began she to worship our Lord Jesu Christ, and so she died and went to heaven. On the morn Dacian gave his sentence that S. George should be drawn through all the city, and after, his head should be smitten off. Then made he his prayer to our Lord that all they that desired any boon might get it of our Lord God in his name, and a voice came from heaven which said that it which he had desired was granted; and after he had made his orison his head was smitten off, about the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty-seven. When Dacian went homeward from the place where he was beheaded towards his palace, fire fell down from heaven upon him and burnt him and all his servants.

Gregory of Tours telleth that there were some that bare certain relics of S. George, and came into a certain oratory in a hospital, and on the morning when they should depart they could not move the door till they had left there part of their relics. It is also found in the history of Antioch, that when the Christian men went over sea to conquer Jerusalem, that one, a right fair young man, appeared to a priest of the host and counselled him that he should bear with him a little of the relics of S. George, for he was conductor of the battle, and so he did so much that he had some. And when it was so that they had besieged  Jerusalem and durst not mount nor go up on the  walls for the quarrels and defence of the Saracens, they saw appearing S. George which had white arms with a red cross, that went up before them on the walls, and they followed him, and so was Jerusalem taken by his help. And between Jerusalem and port Jaffa, by a town called Ramys, is a chapel of S. George which is now desolate and uncovered, and therein dwell Christian Greeks.

And in the said chapel lieth the body of S. George, but not the head. And there lie his father and mother and his uncle, not in the chapel but under the wall of the chapel; and the keepers will not suffer pilgrims to come therein, but if they pay two ducats, and therefore come but few therein, but offer without the chapel at an altar. And there is seven years and seven lents of pardon; and the body of S. George lieth in the middle of the quire or choir of the said chapel, and in his tomb is an hole that a man may put in his hand. And when a Saracen, being mad, is brought thither, and if he put his head in the hole he shall anon be made perfectly whole, and have his wit again.

This blessed and holy martyr S. George is patron of this realm of England and the cry of men of war. In the worship of whom is founded the noble order of the garter, and also a noble college in the castle of Windsor by kings of England, in which college is the heart of S. George, which Sigismund, the emperor of Almayne, brought and gave for a great and a precious relic to King Harry the fifth. And also the said Sigismund was a brother of the said garter, and also there is a piece of his head, which college is nobly endowed to the honour and worship of Almighty God and his blessed martyr S. George. Then let us pray unto him that he be special protector and defender of this realm.

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“Carry God for Harry, England, and St George,” as Shakespeare put it.

  1. [1]Th. Graesse, Jacobi a Voragine, Legenda Aurea, vulgo Historia Lombardica dicta. Leipzig (2nd), 1850.

The Saints’ Lives of St George – texts and sources

Today is St George’s Day, in England at least, and I found myself wondering what the literary sources were for his legend.  About all I know about him is the story of St George and the Dragon.  So I started looking for some kind of list of the hagiographical sources for his Vita or Saint’s life.  I found very little; so I thought that a post on what I could find would be useful.

As with every popular medieval saint, there is a massive collection of folk tales in written form transmitted in the Greek and Latin medieval manuscripts that have come down to us.  But what, precisely, exists?  And how can we find it?

Let’s start with texts.  St George is commemorated on the 23 April.  The massive collection of Saints’ Lives, the Acta Sanctorum, contains a number of “Lives” in the original language.  The relevant volume is April volume 3; the Paris 19th century reprint of this volume may be found at here.  “St George the Megalomartyr” starts on p.101, here.

The introduction tells us, interestingly, that a Life of St George appears in the Decretum Gelasianum, (online here), a 5th century list of books approved and otherwise – as a probable composition by heretics!

The old Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca (1909) – online here; there is a later version but I don’t know that this is online – has a section on the Lives of St George, starting on p.93, here; St George, martyr, of Diospolis in Palestine.  Twenty different texts are listed, coded as BHG 670 – BHG 691.

The first of these (BHG 670) is interesting for its early date.  It is preserved in uncial in a 6th century palimpsest (so very early), and edited in facsimile by D. Detlefsen, “Über einen griechischen Palimpsest der k. k. Hofbibliothek mit Bruchstücken einer Legende vom heiligen Georg”, 1858.  Pleasantly it is online in high resolution at the Bavarian State Library here.  There are apparently Latin versions of this particular life, which fill out the lacunae.  But the story itself simply screams its fictional nature.  Among other ineptitudes, apparently St George is put to death and resurrected three times, in one case after being torn to pieces.  Indeed the life of Christ our Lord, with his solitary resurrection, begins to seem like a rather poor and threadbare rehearsal for the glory that is the life of St George![1]  It might be nice to get this life translated; but it may be that we need someone with both Latin and Greek for this.

The contents of the other lives are as yet unknown to me.  I hope to blog further about this.

The standard handbook on all this material, from which I have yet to read more than a page or two, is Hippolyte Delehaye, Les légendes grecques des saints militaires, Paris: Librairie Alphonse Picard, (1909) 45-76.  This is online here, and seems to be the source of all the other discussions of St George that I could find in a Google Books search, such as this one in English from Michael Collins, St George and the Dragons, (2018) here.  The page that I have linked to summarises nicely what Delehaye says about the subject.  There are archaeological remains and inscriptions which indicate that the veneration of St George dates back to the 5th century.

That’s all that I found so far.  It’s a similar sort of situation to the Saints’ Lives of St Nicholas.

Isn’t it interesting that in modern England both St Nicholas and St George are still remembered?

  1. [1]Readers may recognise the allusion to the Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass; repeated here from memory.