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Saint George and the warrior Archangel Michael

and their Dragons and Monster Adversaries





Saint George


c275 - c303 (28?)


Thought to have been a Palestinian who was a senior officer in the Roman army of that all-round martyr creator, the Roman Emperor Diocletian (c236 - 284 - 305 - c316 (80)), who was responsible for the last great Christian persecutions, before Constantine's Edict of Milan (313)  made Christians the flavour of the millennium.  George secretly converted to Christianity, and had his head chopped off in Lyddia, Palestine, after he outed himself. 


His memory was rediscovered when there was a need for military models in and after crusading times (c1100 - c1300), and he slipped into the role of Patron Saint of England (replacing the England's only sainted King - Edward, who was neither knight nor dragon killer) after King Edward III, who did knighthood,  had formed the Order of the Garter in 1350 and associated George's name with it as Patron. 


A seemingly strange choice for England, especially as Georgie baby had nothing to do with the country, and the poms share him with freemasons, scouts, the US Armoured Brigade, the Greek Army, Portugal, Aragon & Catalonia, Georgia, Moscow, Beirut, and numerous other places and causes including the UNESCO World Books and Copyright day.  A utility rather than special saint - George also has a slot in Islam.


And the dragon?  - Paradox has no idea, but here are an 800 year old Italian bronze door panel and exquisite paintings of the contest by Vittore Carpaccio and Paolo Uccello.  Medieval dragons were not limited to being killed by Saints George and Michael - the Poitiers Musée-St-Croix has a wonderful recreation of "La Grand-Goule" vanquished by the Queen and Saint Radegonde.


Saint George's Day is on April 23rd


Link to Wikipedia page about St George



San Giorgio by Donatello


San Giorgio by Donatello - Bargello (Florence)

(originally outside Orsanmichele, Florence)


Paradoxplace Donatello Page


Paradoxplace Florence photo galleries



The Archangel Michael


The other (more interesting) mega-celebrity dragon killer is the Archangel Michael, who has given rise to a rich iconic and sculptured stone tradition, particularly around spectacular mountain top abbeys and pilgrim shrines - like Monte Sant'Angelo in the Gargano (Puglia) (below) and Mont Saint-Michel (Normandy) (right) - which are his exclusive franchise.


Monte Sant'Angelo, Gargano


As well as knocking off dragons, Michael the warrior archangel has a big and well illustrated day job of holding up a set of scales and weighing souls in the last judgement.  



Great Monasteries of Europe, Schutz

The cover photo shows Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France

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Saint Michael Icon - San Marco Treasury, Venice


San Michele icon - crafted in Constantinople 1100s; looted by the 4th Crusade and rehoused in the Treasury of San Marco, Venice; lent to the Royal Academy for their exhibition in London in 2008-09.


This is the cover of the stunning book of the stunning Royal Academy exhibition "Byzantium", which was on at the Royal Academy in London in early 2009.


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Dragons are not all the same


For the technically minded, the full on heraldic dragon has two pairs of legs and one pair of wings.  This beast is only rarely encountered in church art - more often you will be looking at a Wyvern (one pair of legs and wings and the most common dragon manifestation) or maybe a Lindworm (one pair of legs and no wings) or an Amphiptere (wings but no legs) or a Guivre (no legs or wings). 



Saint Michael Tympanum, Louvre, Paris



Saint-Michel fells an Amphiptere dragon - part of the west facade tympanum (originally painted) of the Chapelle St-Michel at Notre Dame de Nevers, now in the Louvre.



Saint George Tympanum, Brinsop, Hertfordshire


Saint George Tympanum Detail, Brinsop, Hertfordshire



Saint George skewers a legless duck-billed guivre-dragon in a rare (in England) tympanum sculpture, now inside the Church of Saint George, Brinsop (Herefordshire)



San Michele in Abbazia di San Leonardo di Siponto, Puglia.





Michael the Dragon Killer, in a door capital of the Abbey of San Leonardo di Siponto in Puglia, as portrayed in the book "l'Angelo la Montagna il Pellegrino" on the right.  The cover photo is another "Michael, dragon killer" - this one  carved on the side of the 1000 - 1100s Bishop's Throne in the Monte Sant'Angelo Sanctuary Church.



Saint Michael, Otranto, Puglia

image from a Touring Club Italiano book on Lecce and the Salento



A dragon killing arch-angel - this one from near Otranto in South Puglia



St George, Barisano's Bronze Doors, Trani Cathedral, Puglia



San Giorgio doing his dragon thing on a rabbit eared guivre in a panel of the bronze doors of Trani Cattedrale (Puglia), cast in the 1180s by Barisano da Trani.


Paradoxplace page about early Medieval Bronze Doors in Italian Churches





Ognissanti - chapel of the Knight Templar Hospital in the medieval Port of Trani (Puglia).  In the sole narthex capital San Michele (right) casually skewers a Guivre (limbless dragon) whilst pretending to look the other way.  On the left hand side is a utility 4-in-1 bishop (crosier) / pilgrim (scallop shell) / angel (wings) / king (crown), whilst the real boss looks on sternly from behind.





Elsewhere in Puglia, no Michele or Giorgio but a much more impressive bronze (amphiptere) dragon on the west door of the Cattedrale dell'Assunta in Troia.



St Michael, Abbazia di San Clemente a Casuria, Abruzzo



San Michele whacking a wyvern in a lunette in the central Italian Abbazia di San Clemente a Casauria, Abruzzo



San Giorgio by Carpaccio - Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice

Postcard image



The Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni is a much more rewarding place, outside and inside,  to visit than its much bigger and over the top Scuola sisters in Venice.  The small panelled meeting room downstairs contains some fine paintings by Vittore Carpaccio (1450/60 - 1525 (70)), including San Giorgio killing the dragon in a field littered with remains from dragon dinners, San Agostino having a vision, and San Gerolamo being buried. 


Schiavonia is Dalmatia, and Venice had strong trading links with this community across the Adriatic, leading to a large community of Dalmatians in Venice (for whom this was their Scoula) and vice-versa.  The beautiful little Scuola dates from 1451, was rebuilt a hundred years later, and has not been altered since.


Paradoxplace Venice photo galleries     Church of San Giorgio dei Greci in Venice



St George by Paolo Uccello (Paris)



And these are the earlier impressions that Paolo Uccello (1397 - 1475 (78)) had of the event

Above, now in the Musee Andre Jacquemart, Paris

Below, now in the National Gallery, London

(Image sources unrecorded)



San Giorgio, Paolo Uccello, National Gallery, London



St George, Byzantine Icon, Scuola di San Nicolo dei Greci, Venice

Image from the museum guide



This iconic painting from Crete dates from c1500.  It resides in the Scuola di San Nicolo dei Greci next door to the Venetian church of San Giorgio dei Greci, which in the Renaissance years was the largest Greek church outside Greece.





"The Black George" originally from Russia, now in the British Museum and in their book "Icons"


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The Archangel Michael - weigher of souls (sans balance) whilst a devil biases the odds - Cathédrale Ste-Foy, Conques



San Michele, Basilica di San Michele, Lucca, Tuscany



The Archangel Michele with speared dragon and trumpeting angel atop the Basilica dedicated to him in Lucca, Tuscany



Dragon "La Grand-Goule" Musee St Croix, Poitiers



In the Poitiers' Musée-St-Croix, the large beast at the back of this exhibit is "La Grand-Goule", a dragon who roamed the lowland swamps surrounding Poitiers in the 500s, killing nuns and travellers.  Ste-Radegonde bravely sought her out and killed her, and later this scary effigy was paraded around the town once a year to celebrate the event.  For purists the dragon is actually a wyvern (dragons have four legs).


The provenance of la Goule and rider in the foreground is not known, though there is an air of Don Quixote about the rider, and the (working) canon poking out of the beast's tail would have given attackers something extra to think about.  





Église St-Genest, Lavardin (1000s) - In the Loir Valley, Michael achieves the double act of daintily holding his soul scales whilst running through a dragon.



St George, Chantry Chapel of Prior Rowland Leschman, Hexham Abbey



Above:  A panel on the Chantry Chapel of Prior Rowland Leschman in Hexham Abbey (Northumbria)



St George, Misericord in Norwich Cathedral



Above:  In a Norwich Cathedral misericord, Saint George pursues his crusade against  a beaked wyvern which in turn is standing on an overly inquisitive sheep.


Below:  Higher up, in Norwich Cathedral Nave, a proper dragon (4 legs and wings) bash portrayed in a roof boss of Norwich Cathedral



Dragon Killing, Norwich Cathedral Roof Boss




In St Mary (the interesting Beverly church) St George on a hacked horse skewers a Wyvern


and then has a dismounted go at a ballsy British boar (below)





Dreagon Kill, York Minster Roof Boss



A dog-faced dragon (or more accurately Wyvern) with a bunch of grapes hanging from his tail gets sworded by the village idiot in a nave roof boss in York Minster.



St Michael & Alll Angels, Somerton, Carved Wooden Ceiling



Dragons, Michaels and a left-over barrel of cider in the gobsmacking roof of the Parish Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Somerton (Somerset).



Dragon Font, Avebury St James



A prod from a crozier does not seem to be enough to deter a hungry wyvern having a go at an abbot's foot on the font in St James, Avebury.



Monster Killing Capital, Canterbury Cathedral



Monster skewering on the south side of Canterbury Cathedral



Monster Attack, Romsey Abbey



Monster whacking in Romsey Abbey



San Michele, Monte Sant'Angelo, Gargano

postcard photo



St James - Moor Slayer, Compostela



San Michele, in Monte Sant'Angelo in the Gargano, by Fiesole sculptor Andrea di Pietro Ferrucci (attributed) around 1510.  By this time our man had graduated from dragons to killing half humanoids (probably with Saracen featured heads).



And in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, St James has refocused entirely on moor slaying.  It's interesting that apparently there was a South American tribe who invented their own St James, who was a Moor and whose thing was to slay Spaniards.




A more folksy view of dragons in Hailes Abbey Chapel, Gloucestershire




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