Chap. XVII.

Of the Picture of S. George.

THE picture of St. George killing the Dragon, and, as most ancient draughts do run, with the daughter of a King standing by, is famous amongst Christians. And upon this description dependeth a solemn story, how by this atchievement he redeemed a Kings daughter: which is more especially believed by the English, whose Protector he is, and in which form and history, according to his description in the English Colledge at Rome, he is set forth in the Icons or Cuts of Martyrs by Cevalerius; and all this according to the Historia Lombardica, or golden legend of Iacobus de Voragine. Now of what authority soever this piece be amongst us, it is I perceive received with different beliefs: for some believe the person and the story; some the person, but not the story; and others deny both.[1]

That such a person there was, we shall not contend: for besides others, Dr. Heilin[2] hath clearly asserted it in his History of St. George. The indistinction of many in the community of name, or the misapplication of the acts of one unto another, have made some doubt thereof. For of this name we meet with more then one in History, and no less then two conceived of Cappadocia. The one an Arrian, who was slain by the Alexandrians in the time of Iulian; the other a valiant Souldier and Christian Martyr, beheaded in the reign of Dioclesian. This is the George conceived in this Picture, who hath his day in the Roman Calender, on whom so many fables are delivered, whose story is set forth by Metaphrastes, and his myracles by Turonensis.

As for the story depending hereon, some conceive as lightly thereof, as of that of Perseus and Andromeda; conjecturing the one to be the father of the other; and some too highly assert it. Others with better moderation, doe either entertain the same as a fabulous addition unto the true and authentick story of St. George; or else conceive the literal acception to be a misconstruction of the symbolical expression; apprehending a veritable history, in an Emblem or piece of Christian Poesie. And this Emblematical construction hath been received by men not forward to extenuate the acts of Saints, as from Baronius, Lipellous the Carthusian hath delivered in the life of St. George, Picturam illam St. Georgii quâ effingitur eques armatus, qui hastæ cuspide hostem interficit, juxta quam etiam virgo posita manus supplices tendens ejus explorat auxilium, Symboli potius quam historiæ alicujus censenda expressa Imago. Consuevit quidem ut equestris militiæ miles equestri imagine referri: that is, The Picture of St. George, wherein he is described like a Curassier or horseman compleatly armed, &c. is rather a symbolical image, then any proper figure.

Now in the picture of this Saint and Souldier, might be implied the Christian Souldier and true Champion of Christ. A horseman armed Cap a pe, intimating the Panoplia or compleat armour of a Christian; combating with the Dragon, that is, with the Devil; in defence of the Kings daughter, that is the Church of God.[3] And therefore although the history be not made out, it doth not disparage the Knights and Noble order of St. George, whose cognisance is honourable in the Emblem of the Souldier of Christ, and is a worthy memorial to conform unto its mystery. Nor, were there no such person at all, had they more reason to be ashamed, then the Noble order of Burgundy, and Knights of the Golden Fleece, whose badge is a confessed fable.[4]


My notes (and other people's) are in square brackets [ ]; addenda from manuscripts are in curly braces { }; Browne's own marginalia are unmarked. This, along with the neighboring chapters, Ross dismissses as "wrastling with shadows", Arcana Microcosmi II.12).

1 [Wilkin (in a note whose pointing I have reproduced, as an object lesson): It is very probable that Sir Thomas was led partly by his residence at Norwich, to investigate the story of St. George, who is a personage of no small importance there. Pegge [Dr. S. Pegge, a defender of St. George as person] mentions the guild of St. George in that city, (in his paper in the Archaeologia,) but he was probably not aware that there has been from time immemorial, on "[Lord] Mayor's Day" at Norwich, an annual pageant, the sole remnant of St. George's guild, in which an immense dragon, horrible to view, with hydra head, and gaping jaws and wings, and scales bedecked in gold and green, is carried about by a luckless wight, whose task it is, the live-long-day, by string and pulley from within to ope and shut the monster's jaws, by way of levying contributions on the gaping multitude, especially of youthful gazers, with whom it is matter of half terror, half joy, to pop a half-penny into the opened mouth of SNAP, (so is he called,) whose bow of thanks, with long and forked tail high waved in air, acknowledges the gift. Throughout the rest of the year, fell Snap lives on the forage of that memorable day: quietly reposing in the hall of his conqueror's sainted brother, St. Andrew, where the civic feast is held.

More on the Norwich dragon, St. Andrew's Hall and its current uses. As Browne says, the George and Dragon legend seems to have been invented, or at least first applied to George, by Voragine; you may find that legend in the Legenda Aurea: Historia de Sancto Georgio; there's an illustrated version at Legenda Aurea - De beato Georgio.]

2 [Philip Heylyn, 1599-1662, "The historie of that most famous saint and souldier of Christ Jesus; St. George of Cappadocia; asserted from the fictions, of the Middle Ages of the church, and opposition of the present. The institution of the most noble Order of S. George, named the Garter. A catalogue of the knights thereof, from the first institution, to this present: as also of the principall officers thereunto belonging", London, Printed by T. Harper for H. Seyke, 1633. I'm working, desultorily, on putting it up.]

3 [Wren: Or rather the soule, for soe in the picture and story she is called that is the soul of man, which in a specificall sense is endeed every Christan soule; and comprehensively may signifye, the Church of God.]

4 [Wren: "Borrowed from that old storye of the Argo-nauts, or Argo-knights, as we may call them, though the golden fleece may be a meer romance." For more on the question, see an unfinished note On the Image and Legend of St. George.]

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