St. George’s Day Today

From my Orthodox friend Alex Nikas, news of a calendrical expedience:

Greek Orthodox to Celebrate Saint George’s Day on April 29

The annual celebration of Saint George on April 23 is one of the most important feasts in the Orthodox calendar. Almost all Greek households have someone called Georgios or Georgia among close or distant relatives or friends.

However, this year Saint George’s day coincided with Holy Tuesday.

According to the Christian calendar, whenever April 23 is within Lent, and therefore during the fasting period, Saint George’s day is moved to immediately after Easter.

This year Georgios and Georgias all over Greece and abroad will celebrate their name day on Monday, April 29.

This happened in England in the year 2000, when Easter fell on April 23; the Church of England moved St. George’s Day to May 5 (I think). I can state authoritatively on the basis of my own research that the English royal court moved the feast of St. George in the late Middle Ages if it conflicted with Holy Week.

Happy St. George’s Day!

For St. George’s Day (April 23), some images of the saint. My thanks to everyone who sends me these!

1. Courtesy Wanda Cronauer, a Greek St. George in action, from the Jerusalem Art Museum. I have never seen an oval-shaped icon before (if this is an icon).

2. Also from Wanda Cronauer: a sculpted St. George with plate armor and a flowing cape, in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

3. I took this photo at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2014, and I found it in their online catalogue. This ivory St. George was made in Cologne or Burgundy, although the AGO does not proffer a date when.

4. Here is a bas-relief St. George in Venice. My friend Anne Delgado sent me this.

5. Ditto.

6. My friend Brad Adams and his son beneath Donatello’s St. George sculpture in Florence.

7. Brad also sent me this St. George (and graffiti) from Venice.

8. My friend Todd Harper took this photo at Montepulciano, Italy, last June. It is by Angelo Righi (Orvieto, 1587-1603). The dead bodies in addition to the dragon are a nice touch.

9. My friend Malcolm Mercer sent me this photo of a medieval wall painting at Hungerford, Berks.

10. An illustration by Kay Neilson from the book Red Magic: A Collection of the Worldʻs Best Fairy Tales from All Countries (1930), sent by my friend Chris Berard.

11. From the Birmingham (Ala.) Museum of Art, sent to me by Ken Wheeler. The dragon’s teats suggest that it’s female; Samantha Riches has a lot to say about the gendering of this legend in her St George: Hero, Martyr, Myth (2000).

12. “Klosterkirche St Georg und Martin, Weltenburg, Lower Bavaria, Bavaria, Germany” – shamefully, I cannot remember who sent me this.

13. An Ethiopian St. George on display in the Creation Museum (Petersburg, Ky.), courtesy Ruth Mattson.

St. George at the UN

Chris Berard.

My friend Chris Berard sends me a photo he took on a recent trip to New York City. This St. George statue is relatively famous: Zurab Tsereteli’s Good Defeats Evil (1990), located north of the entrance to the United Nations’ General Assembly Building. Given the Georgian nationality of the artist and the date of the installation, it would be tempting to see this statue as symbolic of the defeat of Communism, but the “evil” represented here is the Cold War itself – the dragon’s body is made up of pieces of US Pershing and Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles.

It occurs to me that I’ve seen this image before, at the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas. There, it is rendered on a copper shield with cloisonné enamel artwork, by the same artist. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze presented this piece to Pres. Bush, presumably before 2003, when Shevardnadze was ousted from office as a result of the Rose Revolution.

Novi Georgii Sancti

My thanks to everyone who sends me images of St. George. Here are some newly-acquired ones:

From Arkadi monastery in Crete, courtesy of my friend Christina Heckman: a seventeenth-century “Hagios Georgios o Kephalophoros,” that is, St. George the Celphalophore. I have never heard of St. George as a cephalophore (own-head-carrier) – and note that he has sprouted a new head.

Also from Christina Heckman at Arkadi: St. George the Trophy-Bearer, complete with the pitcher-bearing boy.

From my friend Daniel Holmes at the British Museum. My guess is that this one is fifteenth-century and German.

My friend Kevin Harty enjoyed a trip to Spain and Portugal over Thanksgiving break, which included a visit to Casa Botines, a modernist building by Antoni Gaudí in the city of Léon, Spain.

Over the main entrance, a St. George killing what looks like a Komodo dragon.

From Ronald Good: a classic Orthodox dragon-killing icon, reproduced on a funeral card.

Another prayer card from Ronald Good, this one designated “Hl. Georg Das Drachenwunder – Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen.”

St. George Goes to War

One reason why the St. George legend has such staying power is that the dragon can stand in for any bad thing. As we celebrate the centenary of the end of the First World War, here are a couple of examples of how he was employed in the propaganda of both sides:

Pinterest

This one, by an unknown artist, was published in London by Spottiswoode and Co. in 1915 for the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee.

Wikipedia

And this one, by Maximilian Lenz, was published in Vienna in 1917 for the sixth war bond campaign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In both cases one’s own army is cast as the good St. George, and the enemy as the evil dragon. I suppose it’s a good thing that British and Austro-Hungarian troops did not face each other directly all that much, otherwise St. George might not have known what side to take! (Last Saturday, Sasha Volokh asked, in seriousness, what happens when two powers dedicated to St. George fight against each other, e.g. Russia and Georgia in 2008. I said that I did not know, but I suppose it only really matters if people actually believe in the power of saints as heavenly intercessors and not just as mascots or symbols – and even then I suppose it’s no different from both sides believing in God and praying to him for victory.)

These posters raise a serious point though. I like St. George, obviously, but sometimes the legend does promote self-righteousness. We all like to believe that we’re in the right, and the other side is in the wrong, but we must keep in mind that this might not always be the case! But since there can be no compromise between good and evil, the Manichaeism on display here, I think, would tend to discourage people from seeking a negotiated settlement, and to encourage them to keep digging, even though they’re already in a hole.

A New St. George

I was pleased to discover another St. George just now in the office of my colleague Judith Irvine:

As you can see from the Amharic script, this one is Ethiopian, and is part of a long parchment strip that includes other images. St. George’s cape is wacky, and he seems to be disproportionately drawn, but I like how this image doesn’t just have the hand of God coming out of the sky, but the face of God himself! St. George keeps his eyes on God, and his spears still hit the dragon right in the mouth (“Use the Force, Luke”). It’s interesting how he’s using throwing spears, and not a lance, as he’s usually depicted.

Addendum: Another discovery:

Wikipedia

The ribbon of Saint George is a widely recognized symbol of remembrance of the Soviet people who fought in the Great Patriotic War, WWII. The ribbon consists of a black and orange bicolour pattern, with three black and two orange stripes. It appears as a component of many high military decorations awarded by the Russian Empire, and the current Russian Federation.

The stripes signify the fire and fog of war. While the symbol is primarily related to WWII, it has recently become more associated with Russian nationalism. The symbol was promoted by the post-soviet Russian state as a way to unify people and remember and respect those that fought.

It was also promoted in 2005 as a response to the liberal Orange Revolution in Ukraine. That year, Russian state media along with youth organizations launched the campaign ahead of World War II memorial celebrations. The ribbon was associated with units who were awarded the collective Guard battle honours during the conflict, due to the usage of the color scheme in the Great Patriotic War victory medal awarded to all personnel, civilian or military, who aided the war effort.

In Russia, the ribbon of Saint George is also used by civilians as a patriotic symbol and as a symbol of public support to the Russian government, particularly since 2014. In Ukraine and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the symbol has become widely associated with Russian nationalist and separatist sentiment.

From Kevin Harty

My thanks to Kevin Harty for a new St. George. This is a postcard of the right hand side of a triptych entitled The Angel of Victory, which was painted in 1941 by one Violet Oakley. The Angel himself occupies the central panel, and St. Michael is displayed on the left. You can see the whole thing at the website of the Delaware Museum of Art. It represents “the first of her 25 wartime altarpieces, completed just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

As chance would have it, Kevin has also just reviewed the latest (and apparently last) installment in the Sharknado franchise. From Richard Utz’s Medievally Speaking:

In Travels in Hyperreality, Umberto Eco notes that we are always “messing up” the Middle Ages to meet a variety of agendas.  The Camelot segment in The Last Sharknado is a brilliant example of just that kind of “messing up.” To a popular culture enthusiast, it is an authentic example of “the medieval.” It has a castle, a dragon, a group of peasants, an evil Morgana, a wise Merlin, and a brave knight who wields a special, magical sword to save the day. It even furthers its authenticity by referencing such other authentic examples of “the medieval” as A Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, with a nod to The Wizard of Oz thrown in for good measure. And it casts as its Merlin and Morgana two “real” television celebrities, from admittedly opposite ends of the celebrity spectrum: the well-known physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is a ubiquitous television and radio talking head on any number of scientific topics, and the truly outrageous Alaska Thunderf*ck, from a reality competition television show that has, for ten seasons, turned the outrageous into Emmy award winning high camp.

Read the whole thing.

A New St. George

From a Ukrainian family friend: a monument in Kiev, in memory of the first casualties of the Russian invasion in 2015. Note how the dragon has two heads, each wearing an imperial crown, like the eagle on the Russian coat of arms. St. George, according to our friend, is dressed as a real Ukrainian.

Saint Georges Galore

I cannot pass an image of my patron saint George without snapping a photo. A two week trip to Ireland and London, from which I have just returned, netted me a bunch. Lucky reader, I share them with you!

At Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare, Republic of Ireland. Bunratty was built in the fifteenth century for the MacNamara family, who were local grandees. By the early twentieth century it was in disrepair; in 1956 it was purchased and restored by Viscount Gort with the help of Ireland’s Office of Public Works. Its proximity to Shannon Airport has made it one of Ireland’s tourist success stories, and a number of humbler historic buildings have been moved there, producing a Colonial Williamsburg-style “folk park.” None of the furnishings is original, so I can’t link this carving to any particular owner of the castle. But it makes sense that the warrior saint George should be there.

My loving wife snapped this one for me. It is etched into a window of the modernist Coventry Cathedral in England (the church is actually dedicated to St. Michael).

In St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Dingle, Co. Kerry. Note that neither his shield nor his banner portrays a red cross, the symbol of England.

But this one does! I found this in the baptistry of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. Christ Church is the seat of the Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough in the Church of Ireland, i.e. the “Protestant” church in communion with the Church of England.

Also from Christ Church: “St George the dragon-slayer, from a mid-16th century prototype in the Historical Museum of Moscow, Russia.” I was pleased to see the pitcher-bearing boy here.

Another St. George in stained glass. This one may be see in the Guildhall in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The crown, shamrocks, and roses at the top indicate this is a strong statement of unionism. The oak leaves are a symbol of Londonderry – “Doire” is “oak grove” in Irish.

St. Dunstan-in-the-West is a church on Fleet Street, one of many in the City of London, where I found the icon above. Note the script, standing for “Sfântul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe” – that’s because the church is one of three in England shared with the Romanian Orthodox community.

Another very handsome Romanian icon in St. Dunstan-in-the-West.

St. George’s Hanover Square (City of Westminster) is a fine eighteenth-century neoclassical structure, and perhaps fittingly did not have any images of its patron saint. It did, however, have an embroidered kneeler featuring the arms of the Royal Society of St. George. St. George kills a dragon on the crest.

I foolishly did not record the artist of this painting in the National Gallery.

But this one, also in the National Gallery, is a very famous image of St. George killing the dragon, by Paolo Ucello of Florence, c. 1456. Ucello is not as scrupulous with chronology as later Renaissance artists were. In the legend, St. George wounds the dragon, and then instructs the maiden to tie her girdle around its neck. By depicting these two things happening at once, the painting prompts the question: “Why is that bad man hurting the nice lady’s pet dragon?” I’ve always been puzzled by the strange cloud formation behind St. George, but I love the RAF roundels on the dragon’s wings.

This tableau goes by the name of the Valencia Altarpiece, and you can see it on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington. It was produced in Valencia, Spain around 1410, and depicts, in addition to the usual image of St. George killing the dragon (below), numerous tortures endured by the saint during his martyrdom.

Elsewhere in the V&A: some pre-Raphaelite stained glass of the saint…

…and a decorated table.

This is Benedetto Pistrucci’s rendition of St. George and the dragon, which was produced in 1817 and appeared on gold sovereigns throughout the nineteenth century. That George is buck naked and has his foot waving in front of the dragon’s mouth has been puzzling to some people, but this was a very popular image and was reproduced elsewhere, in this case on a large gold plate.

Also in the V&A: “Casket, wood and brass, stamped Catalonia (Spain), fourteenth century. Inscribed AMOR MERCE SUIS PLAV. Decorated with scenes inspired by medieval romances. Note the lady arming a knight, a man hawking and St George killing the dragon [pictured].”

For sale at the Tower of London: a £5 coin commemorating the fifth birthday of Prince George, featuring St. George, naturally.