St. George the Martyr  
A.D. 303
ST. GEORGE is honored in the Catholic church as one of the most illustrious martyrs
of Christ. The Greeks have long distinguished him by the title of The Great Martyr,
and keep his festival a holiday of obligation. There stood formerly in Constantinople
five or six churches dedicated in his honor; the oldest of which was always said to
have been built by Constantine the Great, who seems also to have been the founder
of the church of St. George, which stood over his tomb in Palestine. Both these
churches were certainly built under the first Christian emperors. In the middle of the
sixth age the emperor Justinian erected a new church, in honor of this saint, in
Bizanes, in Lesser Armenia; the emperor Mauritius founded one in Constantinople.  
It is related in the life of St. Theodorus of Siceon that he served God a long while in
a chapel which bore the name of St. George, had a particular devotion to this glorious
martyr, and strongly recommended the same to Mauritius, when he foretold him the
empire. One of the churches of St. George in Constantinople, called Manganes, with a
monastery adjoining, gave to the Hellespont the name of the Arm of St. George. To
this day is St. George honored as principal patron or tutelar saint by several eastern
nations, particularly the Georgians.
The Byzantine historians relate several battles to have been gained, and other
miracles wrought through his intercession. From frequent pilgrimages to his church
and tomb in Palestine, performed by those who visited the Holy Land, his veneration
was much propagated over the West. St. Gregory of Tours mentions him as highly
celebrated in France in the sixth century. St. Gregory the Great ordered an old church
of St. George, which was fallen to decay, to be repaired. His office is found in the
sacramentary of that pope, and many others. St. Clotildis, wife of Clovis, the first
Christian king of France, erected altars under his name; and the church of Chelles,
built by her, was originally dedicated in his honor.
The ancient life of Droctovæus mentions that certain relics of St. George were placed
in the church of St. Vincent, now called St. Germaris in Paris, when it was first
consecrated. Fortunatus of Poitiers wrote an epigram on a church of St. George, in
Mentz. The intercession of this saint was implored especially in battles, and by
warriors, as appears by several instances in the Byzantine history, and he is said to
have been himself a great soldier. He is [to] this day the tutelar saint of the republic
of Genoa and was chosen by our ancestors in the same quality under our first Norman
kings. The great national council, held at Oxford in 1222, commanded his feast to be
kept a holiday of the lesser rank throughout all England. Under his name and ensign
was instituted by our victorious king Edward III, in 1330, the most noble order of
knighthood in Europe, consisting of twenty-five knights, beside the sovereign. Its
establishment is dated fifty years before the knights of St. Michael were instituted in
France, by Louis XI; eighty years before the order of the Golden Fleece, established
by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy; and one hundred and ninety before the order of
St. Andrew was set up in Scotland by James V. The emperor Frederick IV instituted, in
1470, an order of knights in honor of St. George; and an honorable military order in
Nice bears his name.
The extraordinary devotion of all Christendom to this saint, is an authentic proof how
glorious his triumph and name have always been in the church. All his acts relate that
he suffered under Dioclesian at Nicomedia. Joseph Assemania shows, from the
unanimous consent of all churches, that he was crowned on the 23rd of April.
According to the account given us by Metaphrastes, he was born in Cappadocia, of
noble Christian parents. After the death of his father, he went with his mother into
Palestine, she being a native of that country and having there a considerable estate,
which fell to her son George. He was strong and robust in body, and having embraced
the profession of a soldier, was made a tribune, or colonel, in the army. By his
courage and conduct, he was soon preferred to higher stations by the emperor
Dioclesian. When that prince waged war against the Christian religion, St. George laid
aside the marks of his dignity, threw up his commission and posts, and complained to
the emperor himself of his severity and bloody edicts. He was immediately cast into
prison and tried, first by promises and afterwards put to the question, and tortured
with great cruelty; but nothing could shake his constancy. The next day he was led
through the city and beheaded. Some think him to have been the same illustrious
young man who tore down the edicts when they were first fixed up at Nicomedia, as
Lactantius relates in his book, On the Death of the Persecutors, and Eusebius in his
history.  
The reason why St. George has been regarded as the patron of military men is partly
upon the score of his profession and partly upon the credit of a relation of his
appearing to the Christian army in the holy war, before the battle of Antioch. The
success of this battle proving fortunate to the Christians, under Godfrey of Bouillon,
made the name of St. George more famous in Europe and disposed the military men
to implore more particularly his intercession. His devotion was confirmed, as it is
said, by an apparition of St. George to our king, Richard I, in his expedition against
the Saracens -- which vision, being declared to the troops, was to them a great
encouragement and they soon after defeated the enemy. St. George is usually
painted on horseback, and tilting at a dragon, under his feet; but this representation
is no more an emblematic figure, purporting, that, by his faith and Christian fortitude,
he conquered the devil, called the dragon in the Apocalypse.
Though many dishonor the profession of arms by a licentiousness of manners, yet, to
show us that perfect sanctity is attainable in all states, we find the names of more
soldiers recorded in the martyrologies than almost of any other profession. Every true
disciple of Christ must be a martyr in the disposition of his heart, as he must be
ready to lose all and to suffer anything, rather than to offend God. Every good
Christian is also a martyr by the patience and courage with which he bears all trials.
There is no virtue more necessary, nor of which the exercise ought to be more
frequent, than patience. In this mortal life we have continually something to suffer
from disappointments in affairs, from the severity of the seasons, from the injustice,
caprice, peevishness, jealousy, or antipathy of others; and from ourselves, in pains
either of mind or body. Even our own weaknesses and faults are to us subjects of
patience. And as we have continually many burdens, both of our own and others, to
bear, it is only in patience that we are to possess our souls. This affords us comfort
in all our sufferings and maintains our souls in unshaken tranquillity and peace. This
is true greatness of mind, and the virtue of heroic souls. But alas, every accident
ruffles and disturbs us; and we are insupportable even to ourselves. What comfort
should we find, what peace should we enjoy, what treasures of virtue should we heap
up, what a harvest of merits should we reap, if we had learned the true spirit of
Christian patience! This is the martyrdom and the crown of every faithful disciple of
Christ.
[1] Butler’s Lives of the Saints - April 23.
Lives of the Saints