Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hunting Dragons on St. George's Day

St. George's Day is not an official national holiday in Canada. The patron saint of England’s feast day is, however, a provincial holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador, where it is usually observed on the Monday nearest April 23rd (also Shakespeare’s birthday). This year the St. George’s holiday was celebrated Monday, April 21st.

The most well-known story of St. George concerns him slaying a dragon that had long ravaged the country of Libya. Every day the dragon demanded a sacrifice of a beautiful maiden. Terrified of the beast’s power, the local people had sacrificed their daughters one by one, till none remained except the daughter of the King.

St. George heard of this, and was determined to save the princess. He engaged the dragon in combat, but upon rushing upon the serpent, his spear broke into pieces against its impermeable scales. Falling from his horse, St. George rolled under an enchanted orange tree which protected him from the dragon’s venomous breath.

Rested, the saint attacked again, though this time the dragon’s breath crumbled his armour, forcing him back under the orange tree. A third time, the saint attacked, sword in hand. He rushed under the dragon and pierced it under the wing where there were no scales, so that it fell dead at his feet. The slaying of the dragon by the saint has similarities to similar legends, two notable examples being the conclusion to Beowulf, and the story of Sigurd and the dragon Fafnir.

In Newfoundland, St. George is one of the typical characters in the old mummering plays, historically performed over the Christmas season. Good St. George is often a character in the plays who undergoes a death and rebirth, rising from a mortal wound delivered by Saracen or Turk to fight another day.

In his article “Mummers in Newfoundland History”, George Story included the following introduction to St. George from one of the old Newfoundland Christmas masques:

I am the good St. George, from Albion’s cliffs I come,
The beauteous Isle of smiling fields – the fairest in Christendom.
I fought the Hydra-headed Snake – led Dragon to the slaughter,
I slew proud Egypt’s lordly King, and wed his royal daughter.

Personally, I spent my St. George’s Day holiday in Clarke’s Beach, Conception Bay, just a short drive south of Bay Roberts. I took my kayak out for a spin, and was rewarded with a sighting of two eagles, but there was nar dragon to be spotted anywhere.


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