Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Dragon Slaying Glorious Martyr
I love this altarpiece painted in honour of St George. One can dream that one day, when it is returned to the Church it might be possible to celebrate Mass before it.
It gives us the two narratives of St George, the dragon slaying, fair maiden rescuing, perfect chivalrous knight, and in the other panels the endless and painful tortures that led to him being called the "Glorious Martyr".
Dragons, speaking beasts with eyes and horns and crowns are very much part of the Apocalyptic tradition, so understanding them is no problem for us, George wrestles with beast in order to tame it, it is above all an image of the spiritual life, of the struggle that goes on within all of us until the tamed beast can be led chained into city of God.
The other panels show the various tortures George goes through before he dies for Christ, one suspects that any possible torture was added by the painter, until the whole thing becomes a catalogue of human brutality. The original story of this near eastern martyr is lost under layers of suffering upon suffering. In this sense George becomes an image of every-Martyr. His actual death is lost amid the process of enduring pain for Christ and receiving his divine reward.
It is the mythical nature of St George that I am sure made him so appealing to the medieval mind, and had him almost dropped even in England in the hyper-rational 70s. In my Paul VI breviary there is nothing except a hymn in the Propers for England an Wales.
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