Today is St George's day. In the 15th century, when St George was painted in the sanctuary of our little romanesque church, today would have been as important a feast day as Christmas. Not so in the modern era.
St George's story doesn't have to be retold, but I will anyway just to flex my storytelling muscles.
An itinerant Christian knight, George was wandering about Libya when he came upon a village terrorised by a dragon. It was kept quiet with meals of sheep, but when the sheep ran out, someone had the bright idea to substitute young maidens on the menu (they drew lots for the privelege).
George appeared at the moment when a young woman (some say the local princess herself) was about to be devoured. With a prayer and a swift blow of the lance he slayed the dragon, rescued the fair maid and became one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, the patron saint of England and the inspiration for the Knights of the Garter. Oh, yes, and he then went on to convert the population to his knightly God. The earthly rewards heaped on him by a grateful population he gave to the poor. He then mounted his horse and went quietly on his way ("who was that masked man?...").
Today in the British press, much will probably be made of the fact that the English don't celebrate St George's Day as vigorously as, for instance, the Irish celebrate St Patrick's Day. In the right-wing press it will probably be lamented, as it always is, as another proof of the degradation brought to the English by the multicultural society in which they now live. But I think the fact that our patron's memorial day passes by without our dyeing rivers green, drinking ourselves stupid or painting our faces with poor representations of common plants says much about the English and their saint.
For the English, George represents many of the human qualities we as a nation are said to hold most dear. Courage, chivalry, generosity, modesty, magnanimity and quiet strength applied when and where it matters. We consider ourselves slow to anger but swift and just in acts of retribution. The English, I think, still cherish many of the values of the age of chivalry even though that age may have passed away, and many of us find ourselves regretting its loss in an age more pragmatic.
Enough of George. What about the dragon? Of course, the dragon lies at the heart of English mythology. And dragons lie coiled in our own hearts - all our hearts, and all our lives. Dragons may appear in our lives in the form of unexpected enemies roused by the hunger of jealousy, or as impossible tasks on which our livelihoods depend, or as devastating disaster. And conquering these circumstances, events and situations may turn out to be our life's purpose.
But it's my belief that it's equally important to identify and understand the dragons we have to face inside ourselves, and perhaps even find also the George within us that will liberate us from our own dragon's clutches. It's also possible that, as in Forbidden Planet, that sci-fi classic remake of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the dragon within creates destructive manifestations of itself without...
On this St George's Day, I wish you the courage and the resourcefulness to tackle the dragons in your life, be they human, circumstantial or spiritual. And I wish you opportunities for acts of chivalry be you a knight exalted on his warhorse or the maiden who has drawn the shortest straw...
...And if you're a dragon lurking in a lake today, perhaps in the absence of mutton you might want to open a can of baked beans and shut the hell up...
Pic : St George slays the dragon in a street mural in Brissago, Switzerland.