The “Dragon-Slayer” Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church

NOTE: The following article is a brief compilation of dragon accounts found in the Synaxarion of pre-Schism Orthodox Saints. Though some Orthodox commentators interpret these incidents as allegorical—either symbolizing the devil, paganism, or heresy—the fact remains that many of the Synaxarion of both Eastern and Western Saints before the Great Schism contain accounts of dragons, satyrs, centaurs, and other mythological creatures.

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20th century Christian “rationalism” easily allocates dragons to the category of “allegory.” Yet even in the 21st century many of the simple village Greeks (Οι χωριάτες) still interpret these synaxarion literally—i.e. they believe that these saints literally slew dragons. It is impossible to determine the percentage of the medieval population that interpreted these stories literally. However, even the highly educated and God-inspired Church Fathers wrote and taught about the real existence of mythological creatures [St. Photius the Great, St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Damascene, St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, etc.] Though the following compilation is by no means a complete list, it will give the reader an understanding of the widespread belief in dragons (and other imaginary creatures) throughout medieval Orthodox Christendom.

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Prophet Daniel (December 17, †6th century BC): Bel and the Dragon is an apocryphal Jewish story which appears as chapter 14 of the Septuagint Greek version of the Book of Daniel and is accepted as scripture by some Christians, though not in Jewish tradition.  Daniel slays the dragon by baking pitch, fat, and hair (trichas) to make cakes (mazas, barley-cakes, but translated “lumps”) that cause the dragon to burst open upon consumption:

bel_dragon

“And in that same place there was a great dragon, which they of Babylon worshipped. And the king said unto Daniel, Wilt thou also say that this is of brass? lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh; thou canst not say that he is no living god: therefore worship him. Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God. But give me leave, O king, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff. The king said, I give thee leave. Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon’s mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder: and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship. When they of Babylon heard that, they took great indignation, and conspired against the king, saying, The king is become a Jew, and he hath destroyed Bel, he hath slain the dragon, and put the priests to death. So they came to the king, and said, Deliver us Daniel, or else we will destroy thee and thine house. Now when the king saw that they pressed him sore, being constrained, he delivered Daniel unto them: Who cast him into the lions’ den: where he was six days.” (Daniel 14:23-31)

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5834178

St. Thomas the Apostle (October 6, 72): St. Thomas slays a dragon in India (see Acts of Thomas 30-3, ca. 220-40 AD). The apocryphal Acts of Thomas exhibit both Gnostic and Encratite affinities. The action takes place during St. Thomas’ mission to India. The fundamental correspondence with the Gospel of Thomas Tale and in particular with Lucian’s Philopseudes tale is striking.

St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis (detail)
St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis (detail)

St. Philip the Apostle (November 4, 80): It is to St. Philip that the richest of all early hagiographical dragon-slaying narratives attach. Two closely related 4th-century AD Greek texts, the Acts of Philip and the Martyrion of Philip, bestow upon him three major dragon fights—doublets in origin, no doubt, but each now strongly differentiated and of considerable interest in its own right. These tales are important not only for their complex engagement with the classical dragon-slaying tradition, but also for the light they shed upon the religious battles of their own day. [See Acts of Philip 8:4, 7, 15-17, 9(V), 11:2-8, 13:1-4, 14:1-3, 14:7-9, 15.1 Martyrion of Philip 2(A), 7(V), 12-17 (V), 19-20 (V), 24(V), 26-8(V), 32(V), 39(V), 42(V)]

martamarylazarusSt. Martha of Bethany (June 4, †1st century): According to legend, St Martha left Judea after Jesus’ death, around AD 48, and went to Provence with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus. With them, Martha first settled in Avignon (now in France). A further legend relates that Martha then went to Tarascon, France, where a monster, the Tarasque, was a constant threat to the population. The Golden Legend describes it as a beast from Galicia; a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, that dwelt in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon. Holding a cross in her hand, Martha sprinkled the beast with holy water. Placing her sash around its neck, she led the tamed dragon through the village. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarasque

St Clement & the Graoully
St Clement & the Graoully

St. Clement, first Bishop of Metz (November 23, †1st century): According to legend, St. Clement, disciple of St. Pierre, would have arrived in Metz in the 1st century, accompanied by two disciples, Celeste and Felix. According to critics, the arrival of St. Clement only dates back to the end of the 3rd century, thus backing up allegations that St. Clement was a disciple of Saint Pierre.

The Graoully in the crypt of Metz Cathedral
The Graoully in the crypt of Metz Cathedral

St. Clement of Metz, like many other saints, is the hero of a legend in which he is the vanquisher of a local dragon. In the legend of Saint Clement it is called the Graoully or Graouilly. The legend states that the Graoully, along with countless other snakes, inhabited the local Roman amphitheater. The snakes’ breath had so poisoned the area that the inhabitants of the town were
effectively trapped in the town. After converting the local inhabitants to Christianity after they agreed to do so in return for ridding them of the dragon, Clement went into the amphitheater and quickly made the sign of the cross after the snakes attacked him. They immediately were tamed by this. Clement led the Graoully to the edge of the Seille, and ordered him to disappear into a place where there were no men or beasts. Orius did not convert to Christianity after Clement tamed the dragon. However, when the king’s daughter died, Clement brought her back from the dead, thereby resulting in the king’s conversion. The Graoully quickly became a symbol of the town of Metz and can be seen in numerous demonstrations of the city, since the 10th century. http://www.culture-routes.lu/php/fo_index.php?lng=en&dest=bd_ar_det&id=00000300

Saint Beatus Hermit of Thun, Apostle of Switzerland (ca. †112)

St. Beatus Hermit of Thun, Apostle of Switzerland (ca. †112): While legend claims that he was the son of a Scottish king, other legends place his birth in Ireland. Beatus was a convert, baptized in England by St. Barnabas. He was allegedly ordained a priest in Rome by St. Peter the Apostle, whereupon he was sent with a companion named Achates to evangelize the tribe of the Helvetii. The two set up a camp in Argovia near the Jura Mountains, where they converted many of the locals. Beatus then ventured south to the mountains above Lake Thun, taking up a hermitage in what is now known as St. Beatus Caves, near the village of Beatenberg, probably in the ninth century. Tradition states that this cave is where he fought a dragon. St. Beatus’ grave is located between the monastery and the cave entrance.

St. Beatus Caves
St. Beatus Caves

St. Quirinus of Vaux-sur-Seine, France (October 11, †285): No trustworthy historical report exists of the martyrs Nicasius, Quirinus, Scubiculus, and Pientia. One legend states that they died in 285 AD and that Nicasius was one of the first missionaries sent from Rome to evangelize Gaul in the first century. Nicasius thus may have been a regionary bishop. Quirinus is stated to have been his priest while his deacon was Scubiculus (who is known as Egobille in France). According to the legend he was put to death, together with Nicasius, in the pagus Vulcassinus (Vexin).

One variant of the legend states that Quirinus, Nicasius, and the deacon Scubiculus were sent to Gaul by Pope Clement, accompanying Saint Denis there. At Vaux-sur-Seine, Quirinus fought and defeated a dragon, which had lay waste to the area and poisoned a well.

Bienheure

St. Bienheuré of Vendôme, France (†3rd century): Tradition states that he lived in a cave near the town. Like St. George, he is said to have fought a dragon. His legend was conflated with that of Beatus of Lungern. The legend states that Bienheuré fasted and prayed before fighting the dragon. According to the legend, the dragon was so large that when it went to drink from a river at some distance away, its tail still lay in its cave. It was also so large that it drained the Loir when it drank from it. There are three versions of this combat: the first states that the dragon fled at the sight of St. Bienheuré; the second version states that Saint Bienheuré defeated the dragon with one blow from his staff; the third states that the dragon strangled itself with its chain.

St. Julian, First Bishop of Le Mans, France (January 27th, †3rd or 4th century): p He was consecrated a bishop at Rome and around the middle of the 3rd century, Julian was sent to Gaul to preach the Gospel to the tribe of the Cenomani. Their capital city was Civitas Cenomanorum (Le Mans), which was suffering from a shortage of drinking water. According to the legends surrounding his life, Julian thrust his staff into the ground and prayed. Water began to gush out of the ground. This miracle allowed him to preach freely within Le Mans. Other traditions state that St. Julian and one of his successors—St. Pavatius—killed the monsters which guarded a spring.

Red Dragon Fresco, St. Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne, France
Red Dragon Fresco, St. Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne, France
St. Crescentinus Kills the Dragon
St. Crescentinus Kills the Dragon

St. Crescentinus of Umbria, Italy (June 1, †303): Patron saint of Urbino. Crescentinus is traditionally said to have been a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. To escape the persecutions of Diocletian, he fled to Umbria, and found refuge at Thifernum Tiberinum (the present-day Città di Castello). His defeat of a dragon led to a successful evangelization of the region together with his companions. His mission was confined particularly to the Tiber valley and the ancient Thifernum Tiberinum. He was subsequently beheaded.

St Margaret of Antioch & the Dragon, Medieval Book of Hours Illustartion
St Margaret of Antioch & the Dragon, Medieval Book of Hours Illustartion

St. Marina (Margaret of Antioch, July 17, †303): According to the version of the story in Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, and she was the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. Her mother having died soon after her birth, Margaret was nursed by a pious woman five or six leagues from Antioch. Having embraced Christianity and consecrated her virginity to God, she was disowned by her father, adopted by her nurse and lived in the country keeping sheep with her foster mother (in what is now stmargaret02Turkey). Olybrius, Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East, asked to marry her but with the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical passage of skepticism, describes this last incident as “apocryphal and not to be taken seriously” (trans. Ryan, 1.369).

St. Ammon of Nitria (October 4, †357): I don’t believe that what we heard about Ammon, from a certain holy man we saw in the wilderness in the place in which he had lived, should be omitted. And so when, having parted from the blessed Apollonius, we proceeded to the part of the wilderness opposite Meridianum, we saw a dragon’s huge dragging tracks across the sand; his size had appeared so great that it looked like some treetrunk had been drawn through the sand. So that as we looked, we were struck with huge terror.

Monasticlocations

But the brothers who had escorted us encouraged us to dread nothing at all, but to rather to take hold of faith and follow the dragon’s track. ‘For you will see,’ they said, ‘how much faith may prevail, when you would have quenched it out of us. For we kill many dragons and snakes and vipers* with our hands; for as we read it written that the Savior allows those believing in Him “to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”‘ (Lk. 10:19) But with them saying this, we dreaded more and more because of the fragility of our faithlessness, and we asked them not to want to follow the dragon’s tracks, but rather that we might proceed straight on the road. Yet one of them, impatient, had followed the dragon with alacrity. And when he had found its cave not far off, he called us so that we might have gone to him and seen the end of the business.

Yet another of the brothers who dwelt nearby in the desert hurried to meet us, and forbade us to follow the dragon, saying we could not endure his appearance, especially because we were not used to seeing anything such as that. Truly, he said that he himself frequently saw that same beast of incredible devastation, and that it was fifteen cubits long. And when he had advised us against approaching the place, he hurried himself to pull away, recall, and turn back the brother who had awaited us, prepared for the beast’s killing and unwilling to depart unless he had killed it…

St Ammon of Nitria

“Afterwards, at a different time, with a certain most immense dragon having laid waste to the neighboring regions and killed many, the inhabitants of that place came to the above-mentioned Father, asking him that he might kill the beast for their region; and at the same time, that they might persuade the old man to mercy, they brought a shepherd’s young son with them who had been terrified out of his mind by only a sight of the dragon, and had felled and been carried off, unable to move and swollen, from only the dragon’s breath. Then he restored health to this boy, indeed by anointing him with oil.

“Meanwhile, he would promise nothing to those urging him to kill the dragon himself, as if one who could not help them with anything. But rising early, he went off to the beast’s sleeping place, and fixed his knees to the earth, begging the Lord. Then the beast began to come against him with a huge attack, sending out foul snorting and hisses and rattles. But fearing nothing of this, he said, turning toward the dragon, ‘May Christ, the Son of God, Who shall destroy the great whale, destroy you.’ And when that old man spoke, immediately that direst dragon also vomiting poison with every breath, blew up, bursting down the middle.

“But when the neighboring inhabitants would have gathered and wondered at it, unable to bear the violence of the stink, they got together an immense mass of sand over it — with Father Ammon still standing by, because not even when the beast was dead did they dare approach it without him.” (St. Rufinus of Aquileia’s Historia Monachorum, chapter 8. (PL 21: 420, 14 – 422, 4.)

St. Sylvester I, Pope of Rome (January 2, 335): Pope Sylvester I was called in to kill a dragon that lived in a moat and devoured three hundred people daily. He went up to the beastie, called out Christ’s name, and bound its jaws together with a rope, when he then fixed permanently with the sign of the cross. St. Sylvester is often depicted leading a dragon on a chain.

Saint Silvester stops the dragon (Romanesque fresco) [12th century]
Saint Silvester stops the dragon (Romanesque fresco) [12th century]
There are two different versions of the Acts of Silvester—one dated ca. 500 AD and the other text a century or so earlier. Both texts project the dragon as an object of pagan cult. The A text has the Vestal Virgins taking food down into its cave to it. The B text is less specific about the identity of the virgins and ascribes the lead role in its cult rather to an undefined group of ‘mages’, no doubt in a desire to emphasize the fraud and illegitimacy of the creature’s worship. Whilst the A text does not specify the actual location of its dragon’s cave, the B text locates it in the Tarpeian rock. This was some 300 yards distant from Vesta’s temple in the Forum. Cakes of grain and honey were regularly given to the sacred snakes, both real and imaginary, that lived in Greek and Roman shrines. These narratives offer one of the most striking examples amongst Christian ones of the pestilential breath the dragon can produce. Silvester defeats the dragon by locking it up with key and chain in an abyss; thus the dragon is confined deep inside the earth, albeit in its own hole. This is also the final fate of the dragons faced by Thomas and Philip.

Saint Silvester stops the dragon
Saint Silvester stops the dragon

St. Donatus of Arezzo (August 7, †362): Passio of Donatus’ life was written by a bishop of Arezzo, Severinus. It states that Donatus brought back to life a woman named Euphrosina; fought and slew a dragon who had poisoned the local well; gave sight back to a blind woman named Syriana; and exorcised a demon that had been tormenting Asterius, the son of the Roman prefect of Arezzo.

180px-Hilarion_the_GreatSt. Hilarion the Hermit (October 21, †371): In Croatia, St. Hilarion destroyed a dragon by bidding the people to make a fire, into which he commanded the dragon to go. It did so and was cremated: “An enormous serpent, of the sort which the people of those parts call “boas” because they are so large that they often swallow oxen [boves], was ravaging the whole province far and wide, and was devouring not only flocks and herds, but husbandmen and shepherds who were drawn in by the force of its breathing. He [Hilarion] ordered a pyre to be prepared for it, then sent up a prayer to Christ, called forth the reptile, bade it climb the pile of wood, and then applied the fire. And so before all the people he burnt the savage beast to ashes. But now he began anxiously to ask what he was to do, whither to betake himself. Once more he prepared for flight, and in thought ranged through solitary lands, grieving that his miracles could speak of him though his tongue was silent.” (St. Jerome, Life of St. Hilarion the Hermit, Paragraph 39, http://www.voskrese.info/spl/jer-hilarion.html )

[It is perhaps worth mentioning that a short way down the coast from Epidaurus was the town of Bouthoé, (now Budva, Montenegro), famous in legend as the place to which the dragon-slaying hero Cadmus and his wife Harmonia had retired in old age, and where by some accounts they had themselves assumed reptilian forms. The town was supposedly named for the oxen (boés) which had drawn their cart from Greece to Illyria.]

Mercurialis of Forlì

St. Mercurialis, First Bishop of Forlì (May 23, †406): was the Christian bishop of Forlì, in Romagna. The historical figure known as Mercurialis attended the Council of Rimini in 359 and died around 406. He was a zealous opponent of paganism and Arianism. Many remarkable adventures were woven onto legends about his life. The legend states that he was the first bishop of Forlì, during the Apostolic Age, and saved the city by killing a dragon. He has often been depicted in this act, imagery that resembles that associated with St. George. The cathedral of Forlì is named after him.

marcel01

St. Marcellus, Bishop of Paris, Confessor (November 1, †5th century): The life of St. Marcellus was written by Venantius Fortunatus. St. Marcellus scared off a dragon that was attacking tiny pre-medieval Paris. The dragon in this story is ambiguous, being either chthonic or aquatic, and the saint in banishing it gives it the choice of disappearing into the desert, that is the wilderness, or the sea, which in the Parisian case is the river.

Fortunatus  then goes into all sorts of considerations of dragons in the Fathers, dragons in medieval saints’ legends, Rogation procession dragons, and so on. He points out that dragons often are explicitly a symbol of a particular nation (like the Welsh and Saxon dragons fighting each other, or the Draco Normannicus), or are thought of as just an impressive animal (Romans and medievals believed that dragons were the largest animal in existence, as Mediterranean whales were big but not as big as oceangoing whales), or as a symbol of pagan beliefs or an unjust government. They don’t always represent the Devil, although they often do. St. Marcellus came to be known as the “Patron Saint of Vampire Hunters.”

st-keyne-web

St Keyne (October 5, †505): The virgin recluse, called variously St. Cain, Keyne or Ceinwen, migrated from Brecknock in Wales to Keynsham in Somersetshire. The town is named after the Saint. It is said that when she arrived there, the lord of the manor gave her a piece of land, but it was so infested with huge venomous snakes that no prospective converts would visit her. Undismayed, she turned the snakes into stone, and tradition claims that the fossilised ammonites, which abound in the area, are their remains.

St Vigor

St. Vigor, Bishop of Bayeux (November 1, 537): When he had made the Sign of the Cross and made the dragon unable to resist him, and he had leashed the dragon with his stole in the best approved French style (making it “like a tame sheep”), he handed the dragon’s leash to Theudemir, with instructions to take it to the seashore, so that it would have no more power on the land.  the taming of the Dragon of Cerisy Forest was legendarily the reason that Volusianus, a local nobleman, gave the land to St. Vigor to start the monastery of Cerisy.

Horsham - St Leonard's Forest Dragon
Horsham – St Leonard’s Forest Dragon

St. Leonard of Limousin (†559): A Frankish nobleman who was baptised at the court of King Clovis in 498 by St Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, and then settled for a religious life. St. Leonard’s prayers ensured the safe delivery of Clovis’s child, and he was given as a reward as much land as he could ride round on a donkey in a day. He established a monastery on this land at Noblac near Limoges, and became its abbot. In his old age he became a forest hermit. There is a forest in West Sussex, England named after him.

Horsham - St Leonard's Forest Dragon Bench
Horsham – St Leonard’s Forest Dragon Bench

There is also a legend of St. Leonard the Dragon Slayer who lived in the forest and slew the last dragon in England. Æthelweard’s Chronicle of 770AD mentions “Monstrous serpents were seen in the country of the Southern Angles that is called Sussex”. St. Leonard was injured and Lilies of the Valley grow where his blood fell – an area of the forest is still called The Lily Beds. As a reward he requested that snakes be banished and the nightingales which interrupted his prayers should be silenced. However, dragons were still around in August 1614 as a pamphlet was published with the title “Discourse relating a strange and monstrous Serpent (or Dragon) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great Annoyance and divers Slaughters both of Men and Cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson. In Sussex, two miles from Horsam, in a Woode called St. Leonards Forrest, and thirtie miles from London, this present month of August, 1614”.

St. Samson and Dragon

St. Samson of Dol (July 28, †565): Some historians have argued that the St. Vigor story is drawn from the first Vita of Samson of Dol. However there are crucially different details in the two stories. The two saints do have a young companion in each story, but in the Samson story the boy is merely an observer and does not lead the tamed dragon away. Moreover, Samson flings the dragon from a height, and there is no mention of waters of any kind, in contrast to the sea in the Vigor story. Finally the dragon is commanded to die by Samson, while it is clearly left alive by Vigor. Saint Samson defeats another dragon later on, which he does fling into the sea, and charges to die in the name of Christ. In another of St. Samson’s dragon stories, he banishes the dragon without killing it. But instead of flinging it into the sea, the saint commands it to cross the river Seine, and to remain under a certain stone, revealing this dragon as a chthonic figure.

Saint Serf or Serbán (Servanus) (July 1, †583) is a saint of Scotland. Serf was venerated in western Fife. He is also called the apostle of Orkney, with less historical plausibility.  At Dunning, in Strathearn, he is said to have slain a dragon with his pastoral staff.

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St. Veranus, Bishop of Cavaillon (October 19, †590): A French saint, with a cultus in Italy. St. Gregory of Tours writes of miracles performed by Veranus, including the expulsion of a dragon. St. Veranus captured and expelled a winged dragon that had been terrorizing the region near his hermitage in Vaucluse. Making the sign of the cross, he commanded the creature “by the living and eternal God” never to harm anyone again.

St Gregory of tours

St. Gregory of Tours (November 17, †594):  In 589, a great flood of the Tiber River sent a torrent of water rushing through the city of Rome. According to Gregory, a contemporary bishop of Tours with contacts to the south, the floodwaters carried with them some rather remarkable detritus: several dying serpents and, perhaps most strikingly, the corpse of a dragon. The flooding was soon followed by a visitation of bubonic plague, which had been haunting Mediterranean ports since 541: “…In the month of November, the River Tiber had covered Rome with such flood water…A great school of water-snakes swam down the course of the river to the sea, in their midst a tremendous dragon as big as a tree trunk, but these monsters were drowned in the turbulent salt sea-waves and their bodies were washed up on the shore. As a result there followed an epidemic, which caused swellings in the groin” (History of the Franks, Book X, chapter 1).

Saint Carantoc of Wales (May 16, †6th century): Many details of his life are obscure or contradictory. The people of Carhampton who had been terrorised by a flying dragon. King Arthur said that he would strike a bargain with the saint. If St Carantoc could call up the dragon from the marches then he would restore the Altar to its owner. St Carantoc nodded and turned away in prayer, uttering a strange incantation over the swamp. Immediately the bog heaved and parted and amidst a terrible smell the dragon appeared right in front of the retinue. Only Arthur and the Saint stood their ground while the rest backed away in horror. The dragon the trotted up to the Saint and bent its head in submission. St Carantoc then led the dragon to the court of King Catho at Dunster Castle where the dragon was forced to vow never to hurt another soul again. So transformed was the dragon by the Saint that it never ate meat again and only used its fiery breath to aid the villagers in lighting bonfires in the rain. St Carantoc was granted land by the Kings and built his chapel by the river at Carhampton.

Saint Romanus, Gargouille, and presumably, the convict

St. Romain of Rouen, France (October 23, †640): The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that his legend has little historical value with little authentic information. St. Romain caught the Gargouille. On the left bank of the Seine were wild swamps through which rampaged a huge serpent or dragon who “devoured and destroyed people and beasts of the field”. Romanus decided to hunt in this area but could only find one man to help him, a man condemned to death who had nothing to lose. They arrived in the serpent’s land and Romanus drew the sign of the cross on the beast. It then lay down at his feet and let Romanus put his stole on him as a leash, in which manner he led it into the town to be condemned to death and burned on the parvis of the cathedral (or thrown into the Seine according to other authors). This legend was the origin for the bishops’ privilege (lasting until 1790) to pardon one prisoner condemned to death each year, by giving the pardoned man or woman the reliquary holding Romanus’s relics in a procession.

793 - Image of a fire dragon

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Entry for 793: “In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

Viking Dragon Ship.  Manuscript, Northumbia, England, 900s AD
Viking Dragon Ship. Manuscript, Northumbia, England, 900s AD

Saint Hermentaire (†10th century): Draguignan is a commune in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, in southeastern France. According to legend, the name of the city is derived from the Latin name “Draco/Draconem” (dragon): a bishop, called Saint Hermentaire, killed a dragon and saved people. The Latin motto of Draguignan is Alios nutrio, meos devoro (I feed others, I devour my children).  The name of Draguignan (“Dragonianum”) appeared for the first time in 909.

Coat of arms of Draguignan
Coat of arms of Draguignan

http://www.amazon.com/Drakon-Dragon-Serpent-Greek-Worlds/dp/0199557322/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

http://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Serpents-Slayers-Classical-Christian/dp/0199925119/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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St. George & the Dragon: Dialogue with an Orthodox Priest (Harry H. McCall, 2012)

NOTE: Most modern orthodox commentators have rationalized the icon of St. George slaying the dragon as “purely symbolic art” with varying interpretations of the symbolism. Protestant fundamentalist, and some Orthodox Christians who have bought into the creationist science theories, take the icon as one more proof of man’s co-existence with dinosaurs even after the Flood.

However Orthodox Christians want to interpret their St. George icon the fact remains that the greatest “God-inspired luminaries of the Church” not only believed in the allegorical dragon–Satan–but they also believed in the existence of real dragons (as well as unicorns and other mythological creatures mentioned in the Bible). St. John Damascene, St. Athanasios the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ephraim the Syrian, etc. are just a few of the Church Fathers who have written about the “real existence” of imaginary creatures. Orthodox Saints have been slaying dragons since the beginning of Christianity (see the Life of Apostle Thomas and Apostle Philip)

Some other pre-Schism Orthodox Saints who have battled or slain dragons: St. Adelphus, Bishop of Metz; St. Areml; St. Beatus; St. Bertrand; St. Cain; St. Clemens; St. Donatus; St. Hilarion; St. Lupus, Bishop of Sens; St. Magnus, the Apostle of the Allagu (south Germany); St. Mangold; St. Marina(Margaret) of Antioch; St. Narcissus of Gerona; St. Nikolaus; St. Philip the Apostle; St. Procopius; St. Romain; St. Servan; St. Sylvester I, Pope of Rome; St. Theodore Tyron; St. Thomas the Apostle; St. Urgin (This is, of course, not a complete list)!

The following article is one South Carolina man’s quest at the meaning behind the icon of St. George and the Dragon:

Iconostasis of Chapel in lower level of Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral Greenville, SC
Iconostasis of Chapel in lower level of Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Greenville, SC

Christian “truth” is fabricated and propagated by Christian tradition and one of my favorites deals with my experience at Saint George Greek Orthodox Church here in Greenville, S.C.

While attending its annual spring Greek festival, I noticed the church was open so visitors could venture inside to get an introduction to the Greek Orthodox tradition and its icons, so I decided to check it out. As I entered, I was given a brief printed history which included the claim that the Greek Orthodox Church was the ONLY TRUE Christian Church established by Jesus Christ himself. (Wow, and I thought it was the Mormons!)
 
On the wall in front of the church is a large iconic mural of a knight on a white horse who had just slain a dragon. The guide told visitors that the icon depicted Saint George as a righteous knight who killed a dragon (a creature pictured with bat like wings and a snake like neck and head) who had terrorized a village for a number of years. The guide told us, by killing the evil dragon, George became a Saint: Thus the name of Greenville’s Saint George Greek Orthodox Church.

Icon of St. George slaying the dragon at St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Florence, AZ)
Icon of St. George slaying the dragon at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Florence, AZ)


After considering the logical reality behind this dogma, I decided to call Saint George Greek Orthodox Church and ask if they really thought dragons existed.

The church’s secretary (who was herself a Methodist) told me she would have to refere this question to the priest (Father Tom) who was out of town, but she would have him call me.

One morning (several weeks later) the phone rang and a man identified himself as Father Tom from St. George’s Church (who seemed to have been given the impression that I was a potential member).

After a few formalities, the conversation focused on St. George killing the dragon and went as follows:

Harry: Could you tell me about Saint George Killing the dragon.

To which Father Tom basically recounted what the church guide stated about the miracle of St. George killing the dragon that had terrorized a village.

Harry: So there was a real flying dragon that terrorized some ancient village?

Father Tom: Well, the dragon which St. George killed was, in reality Satan, and by killing Satan; George freed the village from the dragon’s destruction.

Harry: What you’re telling me then is that Satan is now dead?

Father Tom: No! Satan is not dead! St. George killed the dragon just as the icon depicts.

Harry: (Thinking I must have missed something) . . . But was there a real dragon that flew and terrorized an ancient village?

Father Tom: (Now getting angry) Who are you? You’re not a Greek Orthodox are you?

Harry: No (I decided it was not a good idea to tell him I was an Atheist).

Father Tom: I’ll tell you one thing! You and the rest of you so-called Christians will stand before Christ at the judgment and there you WILL give an account to him as to just why you are not Greek Orthodox (with that final comment, he hung-up)!

Frankly, I knew no more about the matter of St. George and the flying dragon than before he called.


(What I had done was to not only questioned religious dogma, but by pressing Father Tom on the dragon, I was then given the wrath of God and Hell as a future judgment for my soul (par for the course in Christianity)!

 Chudo_yudo

 Update:


I work with a former Southern Baptist (I’ll call him Jim) who joined St. John of the Ladder Orthodox Church which also venerates St. George. I told Jim about my experience with Father Tom and I asked him how he dealt with questions regarding St. George and the dragon? Jim told me he hadn’t really thought about it.

A week later, I got an email from headquarters telling me Jim had filed a formal complaint with them in that I was harassing him over his religious beliefs and it would be in my best interest not to bring the matter up again with him!


When pressed on the reality of St. George and the dragon, Lvka (herself an Orthodox and a regular DC commenter) linked me to this sign:

chruch sign

SOURCE: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.ca/2012/12/what-would-christianity-have-without.html#disqus_thread

Novgorod, 1400-1500
Novgorod, 1400-1500

From the church’s website:

If you’ve been looking for a Church that is, Orthodox in morals, Orthodox in doctrine, Orthodox in worship, you’ve probably been looking for the Orthodox Church. Please know that Fr. Tom and Deacon Charles are always ready to sit down with you and talk about Orthodox Christianity. Many before you have walked the path and asked the questions that you have. Our faith is personal. One can learn a little by reading, but the Christian faith is a living faith, and is properly transmitted from person to person. People who are interested in the Orthodox Church are encouraged to come to the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, attend actual services, meet flesh-and-blood Orthodox Christians, and talk with Fr. Tom and Deacon Charles. We have regular classes about the Orthodox faith where you can also learn more about Orthdoxoy. Contact the office for information.

Well, if you love morals that include myths with lies to cover them up, I’m sure you’ll love the Orthodox doctrine and worship!

Nice detective work on Wike, but the website of the Orthodox Church does not use Wiki. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George_and_the_Dragon

Their own description of not only the dragon, but Saint George did 8 more miracles:

Here is a quick rundown of George’s life and it is good thing that the Holy Church Fathers weren’t like Pinocchio. If they had been cursed with Pinocchio’s punishment for lying, most all the Orthodox Holy Church Fathers could pole-vault over their cathedrals with their noses!

Saints Barbara, George, & Theodore
Saints Barbara, George, & Theodore

Now the life of St. Geroge as taught by the Orthodox Church (buckle your mental seat belts and kick your brain in neutral):

A. The Emperor ordered this George taken to prison and that a boulder be placed on his chest as a form of torture. The next morning Diocletian ordered that the prisoner be brought before him for questioning. George stood steadfast and told Diocletian of his belief in the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven.

B. The Emperor then summoned the executioners to take the George and have him bound to the rim of a wheel set with sharp spikes.// When the Saint appeared before Diocletian not only was he unharmed, but an angelic aura had settled about him. Suddenly, two officers of the Roman army, Anatolios and Protoleon, appeared before Diocletian with two thousand soldiers. They admitted their belief in Christ and Diocletian had them all executed.

C. He then ordered his soldiers to dig a pit and fill it with lime. The George was then drenched with water and thrown into the pit. The water and lime would slowly destroy the Saint’s body. After three days, Diocletian instructed the soldiers to clear the pit. To the surprise of the soldiers and the Emperor, Saint George sat at the bottom of the pit unharmed.

D. The Emperor then ordered that iron sandals be tied to the feet of the George and that he be made to run. As he ran, he was beaten. As he ran, he was beaten. One of Diocletian’s advisors, Magnentios, ordered George to perform a miracle. They happened to pass by a tomb of a man who had been dead for many years. // Diocletian asked the resurrected man who he was and when he had died. He told Diocletian that he had lived before Christ had come on the Earth, and because he was an idolater, he had burned in the fires of Hell during all those years. Many idolaters were converted to Christianity because of this great miracle.

E. The next day, Diocletian met with his noblemen to determine Saint George’s fate. They decided to beat the George mercilessly. The Saint nevertheless remained unharmed and retained his angelic appearance.

F. Diocletian was convinced that all of George’s miracles were done by magic. He, therefore, called upon Athanasius the Magician to break this magic. Athanasius held two vials in his hands. If the George drank the first one, he would go insane, if he drank the second one he would die. The George took the first vial and prayed. He drank its contents and there was no effect.

G. Once again George appeared before Diocletian who ordered that Saint George accompany him to the temple and sacrifice to the gods. When they arrived at the temple, Saint George made the sign of the cross and the idols were again destroyed. The people and the priests were furious and demanded that Diocletian have the Saint executed. Saint George was taken out of the city and as he turned his head toward the executioner, he was beheaded.

St. Theodore Tyron
St. Theodore Tyron

Then we come to the ONLY miracle (lie) St. George is really known for:

In the history of our Church, we find a myth related to a dragon and Saint George. This dragon threatened the idolaters in the area of Atalia. The people were forced to live inside the walls of their city. This prevented them from tending their fields and grazing their sheep. Every year, they would sacrifice a young girl to the dragon. When Saint George arrived in this area, the King’s daughter was about to be sacrificed. After subduing the dragon, Saint George placed a rope around its neck. He then gave the rope to the princess so that she could lead the beast back to the city. Thence, he slaughtered the terror and subsequently baptized thousands of the city’s inhabitants.

Pope Saint Sylvester overcomes the dragon of the Tarpeian Rock
Pope Saint Sylvester overcomes the dragon of the Tarpeian Rock

The problem allegory!  So why use language and terms that would never escape perjury in a court of law?

Thus, I could claim I have a million dollars in the bank, but I’m not talking about a real million dollars so let’s say my heart has a million dollars of love in it.  That’s great a nice harmless allegory, but try getting a car loan with that “fact”!

So here’s my view of St. George and the Dragon:  It was at one time a great belief in antiquity when most people were illiterate (by one estimate, only about 5% could read and write (China still has beliefs in dragons)), but as modern times arrived neither did George kill a real dragon nor does the Catholic Church hunt down and burnwitches anymore.   However, to totally deny the myth of the dragon tell would mean that George would no longer be a “saint”; something Orthodox tradition could not deal with!

So to keep any credibility for this myth of dragons to survive in the modern world, allegory has softened the harsh reality of a myth better known as a lie in a court of law. 

Great red dragon with seven heads from a scene illustrating chapter 12 of the book of Revelation of St. John. Late 18th c.

Epistle on Dragons (St. John Damascene)

NOTE:  The main purpose of St. John Damascene is to persuade his readers that dragons are real living creatures and not mythical personages like ghosts, werewolves and so on. To confirm this idea, St. John describes their birth, development, size, behavior, and refers to the catching of a dragon and the measuring of his hide.

stjohnofdamascus330x250_3

Some people contrive that dragons can both take the human form and turn into serpents, sometimes small, sometimes huge, differing in body length and size, and sometimes, as was already stated above, having turned into people, start to associate with them, appear to steal women and consort with them; so we would ask [those who tell such stories]: how many intelligent natures did God create? And if they do not know the answer, we will respond: two – I mean angels and humans… So He created the two intelligent natures; but if a dragon changes its form while associating with people, becoming at one moment a serpent, at another a man… so it follows with all possible clarity that dragons are intelligent beings exceeding men greatly, which has not [ever] been true, and never will be.

Let them also say who in particular tells about it. For we trust the teaching of Moses, and, more exactly, the Holy Spirit, having spoken through [the prophet]. This [teaching] reads: And God brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever [Adam] called every living creature, that was the name thereof (cf. Gen. 2:19). Hence, a dragon was one of the animals. I am not telling you, after all, that there are no dragons; dragons exist but they are serpents borne of other serpents. Being just born and young, they are small; but when they grow up and get mature, they become big and fat so that exceed the other serpents in length and size. It is said they grow up more than thirty cubits; as for their thickness, they get as thick as a big log. Dio the Roman (A.D. 155 – 236) who wrote the history of Roman empire and republic, reports the following: one day, when Regulus, a Roman consul, was fighting against Carthage, a dragon suddenly crept up and settled behind the wall of the Roman army. The Romans killed it by order of Regulus, excoriated it and sent the hide to the Roman senate. When the dragon’s hide, as Dio says, was measured up by order of the senate, it happened to be, amazing, one hundred and twenty feet long, and the thickness was fitting to the length.”

John-of-Damascus-Dragon-300x238

There is one more kind of dragon; those have wide head, goldish eyes and horny protuberances on the back of the head. They also have a beard [protruding] out of the throat; this kind of dragons is called “agaphodemons” and it is said they have no faces. This dragon is a sort of beasts, like the rest of the animals, for it has a beard, like a goat, and horn at the back of its head. Its eyes are big and goldish. These dragons can be both big and small. All serpent kinds are poisonous, except dragons, for they do not emit poison.

The tale is also told that dragons can be driven away by thunder; as if a dragon goes up and gets killed. When I heard this I laughed! Is it possible to see a dragon now a human-like and intelligent creature, now a serpent; now a rebel against God, now a being pursued by Him? Ignorance is truly an unreliable thing.

We harm ourselves most of all when we ignore reading of the Holy Scriptures and studying them according to the Word of our Lord.

dragon_kholkikos

SOURCES:

http://classicalchristianity.com/2011/12/31/st-john-of-damascus-on-dragons/

http://creationism.org/crimea/engl/al1.htm

Holy Scriptures, Church Fathers and Mythological Creatures

St. John Damascene is not the only Church Father to write about dragons (or other mythological creatures).

Dragons

In his Commentary on Job, St. Ephraim the Syrian writes, “The Behemoth is a dragon, that is, a land animal, just as the Leviathan is an aquatic sea animal.”

St. John Chrysostom writes in his Commentary on Job, “If God has created these two enormous beasts, He did so in order that you might know that He may create all of them according to their own type. But God does not do so because creation is oriented to provide what is useful to you. Notice how these beasts preserve their proper laws: they haunt that part of the sea which is not navigable. But one may ask, ‘What is their use?’ We ignore what is the mysterious utility of these monsters, but, if we went to take the risk of an explanation, we may say that they lead toward the knowledge of God.”

An early 15th-century icon of St Theodore.
An early 15th-century icon of St Theodore.

Incidentally, the existence of dragons, or at least the early Orthodox Christian belief in the existence of dragons, is validated by the Synaxarion accounts of Apostle Philip (May 3rd), St. Marina of Antioch (July 20th), St. Samson of Dol (July 28th), St. Martha of Bethany (July 28th), St. George the Great Martyr (April 23rd), St. Theodore the Great Martyr (Feb. 17th) and dozens of other saints.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, while St. Barsanuphius of Optina was stationed as a priest for the military hospitals in Manchuria, he wrote the following in his cell notes: “…I will note, incidentally, that I also happened to hear from soldiers that stand post at the Hantaza Station, 40 miles from Mullin, that two years ago they often saw an enormous winged dragon creep out of one of the mountainous caves. They have not seen it since that time, but this proves that the tales of the Chinese and Japanese about the existence of dragons are not at all fantasies or fables, although the learned European naturalists, and ours along with them, deny the existence of these monsters. But after all, anything can be denied, simply because it does not measure up to our understanding…” (pp. 232-33). [Note: Essentially, the hearsay of some soldiers was enough to validate the existence of dragons for St. Barsanuphius].

St. Marina of Antioch (4th c.) is swallowed and exploded from the dragon's belly at the same time
St. Marina of Antioch (4th c.) is swallowed and exploded from the dragon’s belly at the same time

Unicorns

The unicorn (Hebrew reem; Greek monokeros) is mentioned nine times in the Old Testament. St. Athanasios the Great gives a description of unicorns in his Commentary on the Psalms:

“The unicorn received one horn from nature” (Ps. 91:10 LXX). “The unicorn is the beast which is invincible on account of the sharp horn upon his forehead, by which he kills all other beasts” (Ps. 77:69 LXX).

The Lady & the Unicorn (15th c.) Museum of Cluny
The Lady & the Unicorn (15th c.) Museum of Cluny

Satyrs

The “satyr” is also mentioned in the Old Testament. In Greek and Roman mythology, the satyr (or “faun”) was said to be a half-man/half-goat creature. This is also how it appears in the Hagiographical account of St. Anthony the Great which was written by St. Athanasios the Great.

Agiou Antonios Agiou Antonios

The above icons show St. Anthony the Great with the Satyr (l) and with the centaur (r). This fresco is in the katholikon of St. Demetrios Skete, Mt. Athos.

Cockatrice

The “cockatrice” (Hebrew tsepha; Greek basiliskos) is mentioned five times in the Old Testament. In English mythology, the cockatrice is a snake hatched from a cock’s egg.

A cockatrice overdoor at Belvedere Castle (1869) in New York's Central Park.
A cockatrice overdoor at Belvedere Castle (1869) in New York’s Central Park.