Devotion to St. George was widespread throughout Italy during the early centuries of the Christian Roman Empire, unaffected and undiminished by the removal of the seat of Imperial authority from Rome to Constantinople. It persisted through the Dark Ages while Imperial authority crumbled over much of the peninsula, and it strengthened dramatically with the revival of the West in the middle ages. In no sense however could one say that there was ever a national cult of the Saint in Italy, since in historic fact there was no unified political entity which could be called an Italian nation-state, from the time of the break-up of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century until the Risorgimento of the 19th century. There were patron saints in plenty, but they were the patrons of cities, City-States and regional Republics or Kingdoms. There was no civil power or authority which could proclaim that any one saint was paramount in the whole of the Italian peninsula, and when the fragments of Italy were finally united once more, the heroes of the Risorgimento were more concerned with political patrons and patronage than with patron saints.

The political and cultural power and influence of the city of Rome declined dramatically after it had been repeatedly occupied and sacked by successive waves of Germanic invaders in the 5th century. By the end of that century what remained of Rome was a political and cultural backwater. Nevertheless, it remained the seat of the First Bishop of the Church, the see of the successors of St. Peter, and was still recognised as such throughout the whole of Christendom, until the schism between East and West broke finally apart of the Church. It was from Rome that Pope St. Gelasius (492-496) and his Council of 72 Bishops issued in 494 the famous ‘Gelasian Decree’ which was earlier mentioned in Chapter I, concerning un-authorised cults of the saints that were being spread by ignorant people and heretics. Among the writings condemned were certain distorted and exaggerated accounts said to be circulating about the passion of St. George. The Decree included the well-known phrase which accompanied references to St. George, St. Cyriac and St. Julitta in this decree:

” Nos tamen cum praedicta Ecclesia omnes martyres, et eorum gloriosos agones, qui Deo magis quam hominibus noti sunt, omni devotione veneramus

” We and the Church give reverence to all those sacred martyrs and their glorious sufferings for the truth, known better unto God than to any of his people” [1]

The very fact that the Church found it necessary to try to curb exaggerated stories about the passion of St. George shows how widespread the cult of St. George must have been at that time.

Two centuries later Pope Leo II (682-683) is said to have built or restored the church of ‘St. George in the Velabro’, in the Aventine district of Rome where according to tradition Romulus and Remus were found by a shepherd, in the marsh of Velabrum. The apsis vault of this ancient church today displays a fresco of Christ between St. Sebastian and St. George, which was painted in the 13th century by the artist Pietro Cavallini to replace a more ancient mosaic depicting the same theme.

St George in Valabro.jpg
Christ between St George and St Sebastian in the church of San Giorgio in Valabro, Rome (13th century fresco)

Some doubts have been expressed concerning the authenticity of the record attributing the building of this church to Pope Leo II, but it was certainly functioning actively some 50 years later, when it played a central part in the most important event ever recorded regarding the cult of St. George in the city of Rome. This was the discovery by Pope Zacharias (741-752) of the head of the Saint, in the great Church of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome and of the world (“omnium urbis et orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput”). The Lateran Church, as it is commonly called, owes its name to the fact that it stands on the old estates of the Plautii Laterani family, which were earlier a part of the marriage dowry brought by Fausta to her husband Constantine the Great.

According to a contemporary account of the discovery, recorded by Duschene in Liber Pontificalis, and translated by Thurston [2] the identification of the relic seems to have been well attested:

” The pope was the means, by the providence of God, of discovering in the venerable basilica [St. John Lateran] the holy head of St. George the Martyr hidden away in a reliquary, in which he also found an attestation, written in Greek letters, telling what it was. And this most holy Pontiff with extreme satisfaction, straightaway assembled the populace of this city of Rome and caused the relic to be borne with hymns and spiritual canticles to the venerable deaconry which bears his name in this township, beside the Velabrum (velum aureum), and there the Almighty God doth vouchsafe to work prodigious marvels and favours to the glory of His name by virtue of this most holy Martyr”

There is some confusion however regarding the later history and location of this relic. The citizens and nobles of Rome must certainly have believed that it was present in their midst, when on 19th May 1347 Cola di Rienzi, that short-lived messianic precursor of Garibaldi, was proclaimed at the Capitol of Rome as ‘Tribune and Liberator of the Holy Roman Republic’. He swore his famous Oath of Allegiance to the prefects and nobles of the city with the words:

super santissimo domini nostri Jesu Christi corpore ac super capite et exillo beati Georgii militis et tutoris

“on the most sacred body of our Lord Jesus Christ and on the head and banner of the blessed George our champion and protector 

Three centuries later, Peter Heylyn writing in 1633, refers to and translates some writings of a gentleman of Abruzza named Theodore Anselmini, who in 1612 published a history of
 St. George written in Italian. Anselmini apparently declared that he himself “out of some curiosity” had both seen and handled the head, and had:

looked upon the Epitaph or scroll thereunto belonging, and after laying all up safe in the chest or coffin where before they were; and besides his head laid up by Zachary, they have one of his standards, some of his bones, and also a little of his blood 

Each of these references is consistent with the continuing presence, in San Giorgio de Velabro, of both the head and the banner of St. George. They do not however tally with the well attested record, given in more detail in Chapter 7, according to which Pope Formosus (891-896) gave the head of the Saint to Hatto III, Abbot of Reichenau, to be deposited in his new church dedicated to St. George, on the monastery island of Reichenau in Lake Constance. Who can tell the truth of the matter? Was the head sworn on by Cola di Rienzi, and handled by Anselmini, only a fake substitute, placed in the “chest or coffin” by Formosus in order to salvage the pride and devotion of the Roman people ? Or was the wily Hatto perhaps outwitted by the weak and elderly Pope whom he had pressured into handing over one of the most treasured relics of the city of Rome? Perhaps after all the head of St. George is still preserved in the church of Velabro where it was first laid by Zacharias.

Despite this early strong devotion to St. George in Rome, the cult of the Saint developed still more strongly in other Italian cities and City-states in later centuries. From the fragments of the Western part of the Roman Empire many powerful City-States emerged in the Italian peninsula in the Middle Ages. Among the most powerful were the three great maritime City-States of Genoa, Venice and Pisa. St. George was the declared patron saint of one of these, the Republic of Genoa, which later became known as The Republic of St. George. He was one of the major patron saints of the equally powerful Republic of Venice, and was also patron saint of many other lesser Italian City-States. His cross can today be found in city arms throughout the Italian peninsula.

The development of the cult of St. George in Genoa has been explored in great detail by Grosso in his ‘San Giorgio dei Genovese’. [3]. He observes that this cult, often found associated with the cult of St. Martin of Tours, reached the shores of Liguria as early as the 5th century, brought by ships trading with the Middle East. The present church of St. George in Genoa is very ancient, but its precise origins are obscure. It is located close to the sea-shore, on the western edge of the chequer-board of the old medieval city, on one side of the Piazza San Giorgio. This piazza is a small square on the site of a Roman or Byzantine ‘forum’, which according to Boggeto [4] was established outside the city walls in the 4th century at the time of the Gothic Wars. He goes so far as to suggest that the maintenance of the forum could well have required a Byzantine garrison, which in turn could have led to the foundation of the church dedicated to St. George, the favorite martyr Saint of the Byzantines.

Church San Giorgio Genoa
San Giorgio, Genoa

The earliest documentary references to the church is found however in a record [5] regarding a property transaction in the third year of the reign of the Emperor Otto in Italy (964), between Ildebrando, son of the late Zangulfo, and Bishop Teodolfo. It speaks of ‘basilica sancti georgi’ in the city of Genoa. The next extant documentary record is nearly 150 years later, concerning a donation to the church from Roland, a councillor of Genoa, and a Guidoni de Pazano. Scanty though these records are, they suffice to indicate that the cult of St. George was firmly established in the city over a century before the first of the Palestinian Crusades.

Indeed the basic design of the present church suggests
 that despite evident reconstruction, it may be built on 
foundations possibly much earlier than 964. In design it is typically Byzantine, a simple octagonal building surmounted
by a cupola, with a small sacristy built on behind the main 
altar. Like many old Italian churches, both the exterior and the interior are overlaid with accretions from the 17th and 18th centuries, and none of the decoration hints at its ancient origins. There are three rather unimpressive canvasses in the church by Luca Cambiaso, depicting scenes from the Passion of St. George. Bold lettering around the inner ring of the cupola proclaims St. George the Martyr as ‘Patron of the City and Protector of the Whole of Liguria’


This already flourishing cult of the Saint in Genoa provided fertile ground for acceptance of the amazing stories about the feats of St. George in the Holy Land, which were brought back by the returning Genoese sailors after the successes of the First Crusade. Right at the beginning of Urban’s campaign for support, in 1095, a delegation had been sent to Genoa to seek naval help for the great enterprise. Typically cautious, like all business men, the Genoese bided their time, and ships were dispatched only after it became evident that there was a massive response to the appeal throughout Europe. They arrived at a crucial time off Antioch, when the besieged armies were running short of food and supplies, and were welcomed with open arms by the hard pressed Christian princes.

Later, when the Christian armies approached Jerusalem, a small group of English and Genoese ships arrived off Lydda to assist the preparations for the assault on the Turks within the Holy City. Under enemy pressure they had to be beached and abandoned, but their crews, including the famous Genoese leader Gugliemo Embriaco, played a vital part in organising the work of the siege-train. After the final victory at Jerusalem, the adventurous English sailors returned home only with their stories, but the Genoese sailors returned home also with valuable commercial concessions to trade with the new kingdoms of Antioch and Jerusalem. This was the beginning of a great trading empire which was destined to stretch one and a half thousand miles to the far coast of the Black Sea.

Those Genoese ships which successfully made the round trip to Palestine in the First Crusade undoubtedly flew the red cross of the Crusaders from their mast heads, when they returned to their home city. They also eagerly recounted to enthralled Genoese citizens the miraculous stories of St. George wearing a red cross on his armour and shield, coming to their assistance during the storming of Jerusalem. Not only had the Saint restored the Holy Places to Christendom; he had also provided lucrative trading contracts and concessions for the shrewd merchant adventurers of the rising republic. This was certainly the right kind of saint to have as a patron and protector, and it was a fairly short step to the adoption of the ‘Cross of St. George’ as the flag of Genoa, later to be designated ‘The Republic of St. George’.

Around the year 1255, Jacopo da Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, published his famous Golden Legend, which established the legendary story of St. George rescuing the Princess of Silene from the Dragon as one of the dominant themes of Christian hagiography. It is not surprising therefore that by the end of the 13th century the Genoese Flag of St. George, the red cross, was for formal occasions supplemented by a grander and more ornate standard portraying St. George and the Dragon, termed by Grosso “The Universitatis Januensium Banner”, or “The Great Banner of St. George”. This was the banner carried by the notables of the city on great State occasions, and on the Feast Days of St. George.

In the 15th century this portrayal of the Saint in combat with the dragon also become a mark of prestige to be displayed over the great entrance doorways, the ‘portal’, of the palace homes of the dignitaries of Genoa. There are still a dozen or so of these ornate sculptured lintels to be found in the narrow streets of the medieval city. A typical example, is at the old Doria palace, in the Piazza San Mateo. 
These carved lintels depict the conventional ‘George and Dragon’ scene with the Princess, often flanked by standing figures of heroic proportions, carrying the red cross of St. George. Most of them are over entrances to private palaces or large houses, but one is to be found over an internal doorway in the ancient church of Santa Maria de Castello, and another surmounts a doorway within the great Palace of St. George, situated on the sea front of the old city.

Chapt 5 Genoa Piazza San Matteo
Door lintel at Piazza San Mateo, Genoa

This magnificent Palace was originally designed and built to be the Centre of government for the Commune of Genoa, under the direction of Simon Boccanegra, the ‘Captain of the People’. It was started in1260, but even before it was finished, Boccanegra was ousted and the new rulers had other ideas. They built another Palace, close to the Episcopal Palace by the cathedral of San Lorenzo, and this remained the seat of Government of the Republic and Commune, right up to the time of its dissolution in the 19th century, when it became a part of modern Italy.

When first built, Boccanegra’s palace was called ‘Palazzo del Mare’ (Palace of the Sea), and after his downfall it was used initially as a Customs House, dealing with the import and export taxes which were such as vital element in the economy of the flourishing Port of Genoa. It was so utilised for about one and a half centuries. In 1449 however it was occupied as the seat of the famous ‘Societa o Compagnia delle Compere di San Giorgio’. This Society, which became known as ‘Casa di San Giorgio’ or ‘Ufficio di San Giorgio’, (Bank of St. George), had been formed in 1405 to consolidate and coordinate the interests of eight powerful commercial Companies, representing between them the Genoese merchant creditors to whom the then bankrupt Government of the Commune of Genoa owed vast sums of money. In effect, this Society had taken over the ‘National Debt’ of Genoa, in return for powers of control over the financial affairs of the Commune.


Chapt 5 SanGiorgio e il drago Genoa
St George over a doorway in old Genoa

The decision to make the Palazzo del Mare the seat of this Society of St. George was a logical move, since control of the system of customs duties and other taxes was an essential element in the financial affairs of the Society. The assignment of the Palace to the Society as their headquarters was at first provisional, but it was eventually sanctioned officially by the Government of the Commune in 1451. In succeeding years, the Bank of St. George assumed ever greater powers over the financial affairs of the Commune. It was described by Machiavelli as “uno stato nello stato”, a ‘State within a State’. The contrast between these two ‘States’ was described by Foglietta in the words “l’una turbolente e continuamente agitata dalle fazione, l’altra ferma. serena e custode di venerabili costumi per il bene di tutti” (the one turbulent and continually torn by faction, the other firm, serene, custodian of established custom for the good of all).[6]


Chap 5 Pl 3 poss
Il Palazzo di San Giorgio, Genoa

During the 15th century the Bank of St. George took over almost complete control of the foreign affairs of the Commune. It administered all the overseas Genoese colonies, including the island of Corsica, and also had considerable influence over the home affairs of the Commune. In the early 16th century, in the course of a great European struggle for supremacy, the famous Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria shifted his service from the French King to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain).

This new alliance enabled the Genoese financiers, who were specialists in exchange operations, to handle huge sums for the Spanish Crown. They effectively controlled both Spanish and Neapolitan trade, and Peruvian silver poured into the Bank of St. George. By 1570 it was the principal bank for Catholic Europe.

Andrea Doria also introduced a reformed constitution giving official power to the magnates who owned the Bank, thus regularising and consolidating its position within the political structure of the Commune. In later years the bank introduced a system of bank-notes, and it retained a leading position in the European banking system for another two centuries. But the political misfortunes that befell Genoa during these centuries led to its eventual decline, culminating in bankruptcy and abolition in 1799. At this time the Palazzo di San Giorgio reverted to the State, and during the 19th century it fell into a lamentable state of disrepair. Around 1890, it was threatened with demolition by a new road system being planned to modernise Genoa’s port communications, but a national and European outcry saved the day: the plan was abandoned. In 1904 the Palace was taken over by the Port Authority for Genoa, thus returning to a function closely allied to that which it fulfilled during the 14th century. It was restored by the architect Alfredo D’Andrade, and most of it is now in superb condition, though the early medieval section of the building, and the facade of the 16th century addition, are still undergoing further restoration.

There are some striking depictions of St. George in the palace, in addition to the lintel carving earlier mentioned. The most impressive of these is a 14th century mural depicting the Saint standing, with left hand on the pommel of his sword, his right hand holding a lance which pierces the mouth of a prostrate winged dragon beneath his feet. The banderole on his lance carries a red cross, and a vertical red band slashed through hits simple white tunic. The face of the Saint beneath the traditional shock of red hair has that quiet serenity so typical of the best of St. George icons.

A beautiful 15th century painting by Francesco da Pavia and Francesco De Ferrari depicts the mounted Saint with the Dragon and the Princess, the old emblem of the Bank of St. George itself. One of the walls of the forecourt of the palace displays a delightful small bas-relief of St. George and the Dragon, with the princess fleeing in fright from the scene. The facade of the 16th century part of the palace carries an ornate fresco of the ‘George and Dragon’ theme, and throughout the building there are innumerable examples of the cross of St. George in windows, in carved or painted coats of arms on the walls. The whole place in fact is filled with St. George.

Since the palace is occupied by the administrative offices of the Port Authority, it is unfortunately not open to the public. Through persistence and pleading however, we were admitted, and were given a courteous tour of the building which culminated with a most generous gift of a copy of a beautifully illustrated version of Orlando Grosso’s ‘Il Palazzo San Giorgio’, which the Port Authority issued as a private publication in 1968, on the 50th anniversary of the death of its author. The businessmen of Genoa are evidently still proud to acknowledge
 St. George as the Patron of merchant adventurers.

Genoese Municipal Coat of Arms

Just as the Palace of St. George is filled with memories of the Saint, so also is the rest of the old medieval city of Genoa. This extraordinary remnant of the middle ages is an area of around one quarter of a square mile, enclosing more than ten miles of narrow streets packed with tall houses, with shops and markets and small workshops, plus the ancient seat of central government, a magnificent Cathedral, and a profusion of other churches and small palaces. It is in fact the largest remaining medieval city in Europe, yet it is largely unknown to the foreign tourist, and is only sparsely visited even by the Italian tourist. It caters so little to the tourist that even picture postcards of the innumerable sights of this ancient city can be difficult to find; and despite its compactness, location of a particular site can often involve a long and exhausting trek up and down the steep slopes of the narrow streets.

At the heart of the city the red cross flag of St. George streams out over the roof of the municipal building which was once the seat of government of the Republic of St. George. Inside the nearby Cathedral of San Lorenzo, high up on the north wall of the nave, can be seen what is probably the oldest Genoese mural painting of St. George, clad as a Roman or Byzantine knight, thrusting his spear into the mouth of a particularly horrible snake-like dragon which lies coiled up beneath the feet of his horse. He is flanked by standing figures of St. Siro and St. John the Baptist, two other patron saints of the city. Grosso believes the design of this fresco, with these two large standing figures beside the mounted figure of St. George, provided the format of the carved lintels over the palace portals, which almost invariably include two large standing ‘supporters’ carrying the flag of St. George. He attributes the fresco to the second half of the 13th century, though a recorded ‘guide’ in the cathedral describes it as a work of the 12th century.

High up on the external eastern of the cathedral, overlooking the Via San Lorenzo, next to the San Gottardo entrance, there is a very attractive marble sculpture of
St. George embedded in the wall. This shows the mounted Saint slaying a basilisk like dragon, and as in the internal mural, he is accompanied by Sts Siro and John the Baptist. He is dressed in a long tight cotta with belt and leggings, and his pointed shoes are armed with long medieval spurs. The lance is adorned with a small banderole carrying a cross. The whole work, including the stocky horse, shows strong Roman influence. According to Grosso, this sculpture was removed from its original (unknown) location elsewhere in the cathedral, at some time during its rebuilding between 1259 and 1525.

Other churches in the old city display their share of images of the Saint. In the cloister of the nearby church of
 San Mateo, a 14th century Lombard sculpture from the sarcophagus of Pagano D’Oria shows the Saint standing beside the entombed knight, who is kneeling before the figure of Our Lady. Both the knight and St. George carry banners with the Saint’s cross; the Saint’s shield also bears the cross. Once again he is dressed as a Roman soldier. In the Dominican Church and Priory of Sta Mariadi Castello there are several ‘St. George’s’ in addition to the lintel earlier mentioned, among them being charming 16th century representation in the chapel of Sant’ Antonino, in delicately coloured majolica tiles, in which unusually it is the Saint’s cloak which carries the red cross.

The narrow medieval streets also demonstrate that this is the city of St. George. Besides the famous carved lintels of palace portals, other and more curious figures of the Saint can be found. At one sharp hair-pin bend on a steeply climbing street, a curved metal sheet has been fitted on the walls to cover a protruding angle of stone. This metal sheet is enamelled, and carries an excellent glazed reproduction of the medieval fresco in the Palace of St. George. Throughout the city, iron wall brackets carrying the red cross of St. George, and most curious of all, even the cast-iron manhole covers of the storm drains underfoot carry the cross of St. George, with an inscription indicating that they were manufactured in the ‘Foundry of St. George’. The merchant adventurers and the city fathers of Genoa not only took the Saint to their hearts, but also into every practical detail of their lives.

Chapt 5 pl 8 alt.jpg
Typical street sign in old Genoa

On the other side of the Italian peninsula there arose in the middle ages the City and Republic of Venice, the other great Italian maritime power which acknowledged St. George as one of its patron saints. On the famous Piazetta San Marco the twin columns of St Mark and St Theodore proclaim their patronage of the city, but one only has to turn and look out across the Guidecca canal to see the patronage of St. George also proclaimed by the campanile and dome of San Giorgio Maggiore which, with the great dome of Sta Maria della Salute, dominates the familiar and best loved panorama of this island city.

It cannot of course be denied that the winged lion of St Mark was the outstanding symbol for devotion, and for pride of Empire, throughout the centuries of medieval Venice, just as the red cross of St. George was the outstanding symbol for the Genoese. This cult of St Mark stemmed from the translation of the body of the saint from Alexandria to Venice in 828, under somewhat dubious circumstances. That event set the pattern for Venetian ‘acquisitions’ in later centuries, culminating in the looting of Constantinople in 1204, during the 4th Crusade, the only crusade in which the Venetians ever participated actively. One of the most valued items that they acquired was a Byzantine reliquary containing the arm of St. George. Just as the arrival of the body of the Evangelist had earlier stimulated the cult of St. Mark in Venice, so the arrival of this newly acquired relic undoubtedly stimulated the subsequent cult of St. George; a cult evidenced by the building of churches dedicated to the Saint, and by the choice of scenes of his miraculous activities as subjects for so many great paintings and sculptures by Renaissance masters, commissioned or acquired by Venetian patrons.

Besides San Giorgio Maggiore there are three other churches dedicated to St. George in Venice; San Giorgio deglia Greci, the Greek Orthodox church of the Byzantines in exile, which has already been described in some detail in Chapter 1; San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, quite close to the Greek church, to the east of the Ducal palace; and San Giorgio in Alga (St. George in the Seaweed), on a small island of the same name to the south-west of the Guidecca Canal. This last small church is unimportant in itself, but it has the most beautiful view of Venice at sunset, and historically the monastery to which it is attached had the reputation for being the centre of so-called ‘Venetian Humanism’ which arose at the beginning of the 16th century. It produced among others two learned Popes, Eugene IV and Paul II, as well as the noted Cardinal Bessarione.

None of these four Georgian churches in their present form can boast any great antiquity, though there was a monastery church on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the 10th 
century, and one on the island of San Giorgio in Alga in the 11th century. The present church and Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore was built in 1565-76 to the design of Palladio, and its facade was completed in 1611. When seen close up, it is a not very attractive building, and to quote Ruskin “The
 interior of the church is like a large assembly room, and would have been undeserving of a moment’s attention but that it contains some most precious paintings”. [7]

One of these paintings is a ‘George and Dragon’ by Vittor Carpaccio, but the most famous series of Carpaccio paintings of the Saint are those in the church of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, which is a veritable treasure house of ‘Georgiana’. This small oratory was built in 1452 by the newly formed Scuola degli Schiavoni (Guild of the Slavs), whose acknowledged patrons were originally St. George and St. Tryphonus, though St. Jerome joined them as patron shortly after its formation. The ‘Schiavoni’ of 15th century Venice were mainly sailors and artisans from the Dalmatian coastal territories of the Venetian Republic. The Venetians had established a political presence in Dalmatia soon after the year 1000, when Doge Pietro Orseolo II took the title of Duke of Dalmatia, and by 1420 they had firm control of most of the coastal Dalmatian lands.

Chapt 5 Pl 9
St George by Carpaccio in Scuola di S Giorgio degli Schiavone (early 16th cent)


At this time these territories became very important for defence against the Turks who were pressing eastward into the Balkans, so every encouragement was given to Dalmatian Slavs who served the interests of the Republic. Hence the recognition of the Venetian Guild of the Dalmatian Slavs in 1451, in a decree issued by the Council of Ten, which approved the ‘regula madre’ or ‘mariegola’ of the Scuola in a codex still preserved in the oratory. This beautiful document commemorates two of the Patron Saints in two exquisite 15th century silver medallions, one of a mounted St. George with the Dragon on the front cover of the codex, and one of St. Jerome on the back cover. A large illuminated initial letter on its first page shows a standing (bearded) St. George piercing a prostrate Dragon with his lance. The two-storied oratory, itself today termed a ‘Scuola’, was built on land attached to the disused almshouses of St. Catherine, which was donated to the Guild by the powerful Order of St. John of the Temple. In 1551 it was largely rebuilt and re-arranged into its present form, and an elegant bas-relief sculpture of St. George and the Dragon on the facade, by Pietro Da Salo, dates from this rebuilding. When one first enters the building, the lack of windows, coupled with poor internal lighting, give an initial impression of obscurity and gloom, but this is soon dispelled as one takes in the extraordinary wealth and quality of artistic decoration which stretches around the walls of the ground floor room of the small oratory.

In ‘St. Mark’s Rest’, Ruskin describes this room, in his familiar and inimitable style of imaginative prose, as:

“a little room the size of a commercial parlour in an old fashioned English inn … the place looks comfortable and especially warm the pictures having the effect, you will feel presently, of a soft evening sunshine on the walls, or glow from embers on some peaceful hearth, cast up into the room where one sits waiting for dear friends in twilight”

There are altogether nine Carpaccio paintings stretching around and filling the walls to left and right of the altar which faces the entrance doorway. Three of these depict scenes based on Jacopo da Varagine’s well-known story of St. George in the Golden Legend. Two depict scenes from the life and death of St. Jerome: one depicts ‘The Miracle of St. Tryphonus’ and another ‘St. Augustine’s Vision of St. Jerome’. Two relatively small works depict ‘The Agony in the Garden’, and ‘The Call of Matthew’. All of these works were carried out from 1502 to 1507, some being legibly dated by the painter himself. The three St. George’s were probably completed in 1507.

The largest, and most impressive of all the paintings is the famous scene of St. George in battle with the Dragon. This outstanding work was used for the design of a pair of Italian postage stamps issued in 1976 on the 450th anniversary of Carpaccio’s death. These are in their own right a delightful miniature work of art, well worthy of reproduction here.

Chapt 5 Pl 10
Italian Postage Stamp issued in 1976 on the 450th anniversary of the death of Carpaccio

The second of the paintings shows the Saint standing amidst onlookers in the city centre, raising his sword over the head of the leashed dragon, while the third shows him baptising the pagan King and Queen as Christians.

All of the paintings are around 144 cms (4′ 8″) high, but the combat scene of St. George and the Dragon is 360 cms (nearly 12ft) long. The equally famous picture of St. George slaying the dragon in the city is only a few centimetres shorter. It is probable that all three of the St. George pictures were originally of the same length, but two of them seem to have been cut down to size when they were removed from their original home in the upper room at the time of the rebuilding in 1551, and were fitted into the lower room.

Chapt 5 Pl 11.jpg
The Triumph of St George by Carpaccio in the Scuola di S Giorgio degli Schiavone

The St. George of these paintings is the traditional elegant youth, with the familiar shock of red hair. His expression is both serious and purposive, expressing intent for achievement, first in his combat with the Dragon, second in his duty to dispatch the wounded dragon that had been led into the city, and third is his more pleasant duty of baptising the pagan royal family. The details of landscape and surroundings in these paintings are superbly executed, as are also the more gruesome details of the battlefield between saint and dragon. This linked series of narrative paintings, including those of St. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Tryphonus, undoubtedly constitutes the greatest artistic achievement of Vittore Carpaccio. It is truly remarkable that this great group of paintings should have survived unscathed all of the hazards of conquest and pillage during the centuries of Venetian misfortune.

After the fall of the Republic to Napoleon’s forces, all the Guilds of Venice were suppressed. Other groups of Carpaccio’s paintings, in the Scuola degli Albanesi, the Scuola di Sant’Orsola and the Scuola di Santo Stefano, were pillaged and dispersed to art galleries around Europe: one from Santo Stefano was even destroyed. Fortunately, however, the Guardian Grande of the Scuola degli Schiavoni was somehow able to persuade Prince Eugene Beauharnais to grant his Guild immunity from sequestration, and all the possessions of the Guild, including paintings, manuscripts and sacred vessels, remained intact in their original environment.

Many other items of ‘Georgiana’ survived among them, and are still displayed in the oratory. Behind the altar in the upper room there is a reredos within which is mounted a large wooden roundel carrying a charming 15th century bas-relief of
 St. George in combat with the Dragon. It appears that this roundel was originally part of the ceiling decoration in the lower room, and was removed to its present position at the time of the rebuilding of the Scuola in 1551. On the walls of the upper room, and on the walls of the staircase leading to it there are several St. George paintings of later centuries of excellent quality, though they cannot of course compare with the Carpaccio masterpieces. In the ground floor sacristy there is the precious Mariegola codex as earlier described, and also a beautiful processional reliquary crucifix in silver and rock crystal, made by 15th century Venetian silversmiths, displaying on its back a finely executed equestrian ‘George and Dragon’.

All in all, this is one of the richest collections of images and paintings of our Saint that can be found in Christendom, rivalling in its own way the outstanding collection of St. George icons at St. Catherine’s at Sinai, or that of San Giorgio deglia Greci in Venice. One has to ask why the Venetian Dalmatians had such a strong devotion to St. George. Was it because some of the early legends describe him as a Dalmatian knight? Was it because he was recognised as the patron of sailors by the sailor members of the Dalmatian Guild? Or did the devotion stem from earlier ties of the Balkan Slavs with the Eastern Church, which regarded St. George as the Great Martyr of the Church ? Who can tell ? Perhaps all of these factors were intertwined in the choice of St. George as the principal patron of the Scuola degli Schiavoni, a choice which in the course of centuries has given this humble Guild of sailors and artisans an indisputable claim to fame in the artistic and iconographical annals of history.

Chapt 5 Plate 12 (1)
St George by Mantegna Accademia Venice
Chapt 5 Plate 12 (2)
Postage stamp of Mongolia

Quite apart from the Venetian churches, Venetian art galleries also exhibit many superb paintings of St. George, including the famous Mantegna in the Accademia ,and Lorenzo Lotto’s ‘St Nicholas in Glory’ in the Carmini, which depicts a highly praised landscape scene of the Saint killing the dragon. In the Ducal Palace there are some outstanding paintings by Tintoretto which include a pair declared by Ruskin to be ” the most majestic and characteristic of the master”. One of these depicts St. George and the Dragon, in which:

” The principal figure is the princess, who sits astride on the dragon’s neck, holding him by a bridle of silken riband; St. George stands above and behind her, holding her head as if to bless her, or to keep the dragon quiet by heavenly power …(she) is not so much represented as riding on the dragon, as supposed to be placed by St. George in an attitude of victory over her chief enemy …St. George is in grey armour and grey drapery, and has a beautiful face; his figure is entirely dark against the distant sky”

Tintoretto St George Accadamie Venice
St George and the Princess by Tintoretto

St. George is also remembered in the basilica of St. Mark, though one has to seek diligently to find him amidst the profusion of images recounting the story of the Evangelist patron of the church. In the Marciano museum above the atrium of St. Mark’s there are some superb tapestries of the Flemish weaver Giovanni Rost, who worked in Florence in the mid-16th century. Two of these depict an old legend according to which St. Mark, St. George and St. Nicholas intervened to preserve the city from the threat of a huge flood, which was accompanied by an assault from a boatload of devils ! (This same theme is also found in a very fine painting by Giorgione in the Accademia).

The greatest treasure of all, the Arm of St. George, is however to be found in the Treasury of St. Mark’s. This relic and its original Byzantine casing were brought to Venice from Constantinople by the Doge Enrico Dandolo in 1204, looted after the sack of that city for which he was largely responsible. At some time between 1204 and 1325 a new reliquary was produced in Venice to hold not only the relic, but also the original Byzantine casing, and it is this beautiful and outstanding Venetian work of art which the visitor sees today. It is a tall, cup shaped silver-gilt container, about 20 inches high, supported on a base of splayed stems of thick wire with cusped foliage. The lowest section of the cup above the base carries inscriptions back and front, reading:


“This is the arm of the most glorious martyr, St. George

Chapt 5 Pl 13
The reliquary of the arm of St George

The main part of the reliquary contains two narrow screens, hinged at the bottom, which can open downwards to provide a view of the relic in its original 12th century silver casing, which carries a Greek inscription. Niches on the outer casing originally held figures in translucent coloured enamel, but only ten of these have survived. At the very top of the reliquary, mounted on a curved bar hinged to the sides, is a strikingly beautiful figure of the equestrian St. George attacking a winged dragon. It is thought that the figure of the Saint, and his rearing horse, date from the 16th century, but the dragon seems to be from the original 13th or 14th century work. Quite apart from the devotional significance of the relic itself, the Venetian-made reliquary which holds it is certainly one of the most beautiful representations of the Saint in Western art, which may perhaps help to redeem the sacriligeous plundering of the rapacious Doge Dandolo.

St George over a street doorway in Venice

There are also some carved lintels of ‘St. George and the Dragon’ to be found over the doorways of some old Venetian houses: these are similar in character and size to the elegant carving on the facade of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, being less grandiose than those found on the portals of Genoese palaces and houses, flanked by ‘heroic’ supporters. The red cross of St. George however is seldom seen in the streets of Venice, which is really not surprising. After all, the Venetians played no heroic role in the Crusades which could justify them using the red cross of St. George; and this same red cross was the emblem of the hated Genoese against whom they were constantly invoking their Protector Lion of St. Mark. St. George and the Dragon could be accepted in their treasures and works of art, but the Venetian city fathers could hardly encourage a public display of the emblem of their most powerful enemy and rival, the Genoese ‘Republic of St. George’.

Codice mariegola della beata Vergine della Misericordia di Chirignago
Codici Marigliano della Confraternita della Beata Vergine della Misericordia di Chirignagno, Venice (1521-1528)

Ferrara is yet another of the great Italian cities acknowledging St. George as one of its patrons, the other patron being St. Maurillo. According to Guiseppi Agnelli’s Ferrara e Pomposa. cited by Grosso, a church dedicated to St. George was built in Ferrara by Pope Vitaliano, in the year 647. There are pictures and tapestries of the Saint in the cathedral Treasury, including an outstanding painting by Cosimo Tura depicting ‘St. George slaying the Dragon and saving the Princess of Trebizond’; but the most striking icon of the Saint is the sculpture by Maestro Nicolo of Ferrara on the architrave above the internal arch of the great portal of the Cathedral. This shows the rider St. George, adorned with a nimbus, in the act of slaying the dragon with his sword, after having wounded it with his lance and having crushed it with the leg of his horse.

Ferrara Cathedral
St George and the dragon. Detail of portal Ferrara Cathedral

The date and provenance of the sculpture (1135) are indicated by an adjacent inscription, which reads:

X Anno milleno centeno ter quoque deno

X Quinque

X Arteficem gnarum sculpserit nicholaum

X hue concurrentes laudent per secula gentes

Another sculpture showing St. George with arms of a knight and armed with a sword, riding a rough steed, can also be found in Ferrara museum. This also dates from the 12th century, and is in fact a fragment earlier removed from this same great Portal of Ferrara Cathedral.

Several great Italian cities display the cross of 
St. George in their arms. The arms of two of these, Mantua and Padua, are shown in an Italian postage stamp bearing the caption ‘Centenario Dell ‘Unione All ‘Italia’, issued in 1966 to commemorate the centenary of the nine city union of 1866, which preceded the unification of Italy in 1870.

Chapt 5 Pl 15
Postage stamp issued in 1966 showing the arms of Mantua and Padua

Although St. George is not explicitly acknowledged today as patron saint of either of these cities, clear evidence of the cult of the Saint in earlier times can be found in both of 
them. In Mantua the 16th century Ducal Palace is built alongside the 14th century Castello St. Giorgio, which was apparently the earlier Ducal Palace, while the name of St. George is carried by several adjacent streets. In Padua there are two ranges of 14th century frescoes on the Legends of St. George, by Altichiero and Avanzi, painters of the school of Giotto, in the Oratorio di San Giorgio. This oratory, which is close to the Basilica del Santo, was built for a noble family of the city to commemorate the patron saints of various members of the family. Unusually for Italian art, the lower range of four of these frescoes of St. George depicts the Saint as a mature, bearded figure, akin to some of the unattractive St. George’s of Durer and other German Renaissance artists.


St George in the Oratorio di San Giorgio, Padova

Outstanding artistic representations of the Saint are to be found in many other Italian cities which claim no special patronage of the saint. In Florence there is the famous statue by Donatello, originally commissioned by the Florentine Guild of Armourers for the Or San Michele.

Donatello St George
St George by Donatello in Florence

Like so many great St. George’s, it combines grace and serenity with a sense of great strength and determination.

In Verona, another of the great centres of Renaissance Italy, there are noteworthy St. George’s in both the church of San Giorgio, and in the church of Sta Anastasia. The former is a typically ebullient Veronese in which St. George, stripped to the waist, kneels before his executioner. Somewhat anachronistically, a monk stand by his side, while the Virgin in Glory, with Sts. Peter and Paul and a host Angels, appear in the heavens above. The latter is a painting by Giolfino depicting St. George standing in armour, pointing upwards with one hand, while the other hand holds the inscription: Quid bono retribua Dno

In Parma a 12th century sculpture on the facade of the episcopal cathedral depicts St. George dressed in a light tunic, slaying a tremendous serpentine monster which has twined its leg round the rear leg of the Saint’s horse. The same combat is depicted in a 12th century sculpture in the great marble chancel of Santa Restituta in Naples, and another striking example is a beautiful mosaic in the Malespina museum of Pavia. Finally, there is the legacy of the Normans returning from the First Crusade to Southern Italy and Sicily, as already described in Chapter 4: this includes frescoes in Lecce, Brindisi and Monte san Angelo, as well as the St. George panels of Barisano of Trani on the bronze doorways of the Norman cathedrals of Trani, Ravello and Monreale.

Trani Cathedral Bronze doors
St George from the bronze doors of Trani Cathedral
Bronze Door Ravello Cathedral
Bronze door Ravello Cathedral

There is an endless list of St. George paintings of Italian provenance, on every theme in the iconographical repertoire, not only throughout the cities and villages of Italy, but also throughout the museums and art galleries of the Western World. The National Gallery in London is especially well endowed with some striking and unusual examples. Perhaps the best known of these is the famous St. George and the Dragon by Paolo Uccello, with its horrific bright green winged dragon, baring its dripping fangs, and pawing the ground with its great claws. By contrast, the child-like figures of St. George in his shining armour on his beautiful white steed, and the tall, slim young princess holding a light girdle attached to the menacing head of the monster, are symbols of innocence and purity.

Ucello St George National Gallery
St George and the Dragon by Uccello, National Gallery, London

Tintoretto’s St. George and the Dragon in the National Gallery is less successful both iconographically and artistically, being dominated by the figures of the buxom Princess fleeing into the foreground, and by the gruesome body stretched out in front of the battle scene. These two paintings share a common iconographical theme, however. In each of them the sky is overshadowed by a boiling cloud. In the Tintoretto painting the figure of the deity with hand raised in blessing can be discerned emerging from the heart of the cloud. In the Uccello painting the cloud is more like an erupting volcano, with no visible figure at its centre; but in the sky above there rides, in serene contrast, the slim white crescent of the moon; yet another example of the astral mythology of ancient Georgia which is so deeply embedded in the iconography of St. George.

Tintoretto National Gallery
St George and the Princess by Tintoretto, National Gallery, London

A third and most unusual Italian St. George is to be found in the National Gallery, in the cryptic ‘Landscape at Sunset’ by Giorgione. It portrays a rocky landscape, separated by a small lake from a densely wooded patch to the left, with a slim sapling in the centre. On a rocky platform rising from the far side of the water an equestrian St. George is fighting the dragon. In the foreground two people are resting: the younger of these is St. Antony (Abbot), quite clearly identifiable by his traditional sign of a pig, which can be seen just above the water on the right. No one in the art world seems to have succeeded in providing a reliable identification for the other, older man, though some have tentatively suggested that he may be St. Roch, in his role as medical healer. The writer however ventures to suggest that he is far more likely to be St. Ubaldo of Gubbio, who is traditionally associated with St. George and St. Antony in their role as joint patron saints of the Umbrian city of Gubbio.

Chapt 5 Giordano.jpg
Landscape in Sunset by Giorgione, National Gallery London
Giorgiano detail 2.jpg
Landscape in Sunset by Giorgione, National Gallery, London detail


Gubbio is an attractive small hill town not far from Assisi, and like many such small Italian towns and villages it retains elements of genuine devotion to St. George, which have long been lost in the urban sprawl of bigger Italian cities. Before the 12th century, it had only two patron Saints,
 St. George and St. Antony. They were later joined by St. Ubaldo, who became bishop of Gubbio in 1128 and who played a decisive role in defending the city against the marauding armies of Frederick Barbarossa. His courage and patience much endeared him to the townsfolk, and after his death in 1160 they eagerly promoted his beatification. He was canonised in 1192, and at that point he joined St. George and St. Antony to form a triune patronage of the town, which led to the establishment of a most fascinating annual celebration, built on a complex of traditions which has persisted for more than eight centuries.

The three saints are commemorated together in a traditional ‘Candle Race’, the ‘Corsa dei Ceri’, which takes place every year on the 15th of May. The so called ‘Ceri’ are massive wooden pillars of beautifully inlaid wood, each 23 ft. high, formed from two prisms shaped like hour-glasses. Each is carried on a frame called a ‘barella’ (barrow), resting on the shoulders of a team of 40 young men. On the top of the masons’ Candle stands the mitred figure of the Bishop Saint Ubaldo, in bright yellow vestments. On the top of the farmers’ Candle stands the black habited figure of St. Antony Abbot, and on the top of the haberdashers’ Candle is perched the equestrian figure of St. George, sporting a heavy moustache and a dashing blue cloak.

The three statues of the Saints are kept in the local church of St. Francis together with three ceramic jugs carrying the names of the three Saints. The three ‘Ceri’ are kept in St. Ubaldo’s church higher up the slopes of the mountain on which Gubbio is built. Every year on the first Sunday of May, at sunrise, the candle-bearers go in groups to the church of St. Ubaldo and bring the Candles back to the town, where the figures of the three Saints are attached to their spires. Then on the 15th May, they are carried by the three teams of young men, appropriately clad in yellow for St. Ubaldo, black for St. Antony, and blue for St. George, on a route through the town which is timed to meet a procession coming out from the Cathedral. There they are blessed by the local bishop in the midst of a great crowd of jubilant people. Then the three huge structures are carried at high speed, racing along the slopes of the mountain, up to St. Ubaldo’s church, where they remain until the following year. The three ceramic jugs bearing the names of the Saints are used to pour water on to the thongs between the candles and the barrows, and when they are empty they are thrown to the ground. After the procession has passed, the onlookers rush to pick up the fragments of the broken pottery, which are treasured as lucky amulets.

Chapt 5 Pl 19
Corsa dei Ceri, Gubbio

The story of the taming of the ‘Wolf of Gubbio’ by St. Francis of Assisi, depicted in a statue of the Saint with the Wolf in Gubbio’s Chiesa di San Francesco Delia Pace, is well known to devotees of the friar-Saint, as a link between Gubbio and Assisi. Less well known is the fact that a common devotion to St. George provides another strong link between the two Umbrian hill towns of Assisi and Gubbio. The cult of St. George was established in Assisi long before the birth of St. Francis in the 12th century. The young boy who was to become the greatest friar-saint of the Western Church was instructed by the priests of the old church of St. George in Assisi, perched high on the slopes of Mount Subiaso. He also preached his first sermon there, at the start of his mission, after he had renounced worldly wealth and ambition; and after his death in 1226 his body was brought to this ancient church for burial. These facts are recorded in innumerable books that have been written about St. Francis, yet when one visits the city and enquires the whereabouts of the church of St. George, there is almost invariably a blank look of incomprehension, and a shrug of the shoulders. Patient and persistent enquiry reveals the fact that this ancient church still exists, visible yet invisible, almost completely enclosed and merged within one of the great medieval churches of Assisi, the Basilica of Sta. Chiara which dominates the upper reaches of the city.

Today it is known simply as ‘The Chapel of St. George’, but in fact it houses some of the most treasured possessions of the ‘Poor Clares’ who made it the centre of their new home when they moved from San Damiano in 1260. These include the sandals and habit of St. Francis, and the famous 11th century crucifix which spoke to the Saint in their little church of San Damiano. The body of St. Francis, alas, is no longer there, having long since been transferred to the great Romanesque Basilica of St. Francis at the foot of Mount Subiaso. St. George is remembered only in a rather modest medieval painting of his conflict with the dragon. Such historical overshadowing of the ancient cult of St. George by the cults of great local Italian saints who emerged in the middle ages is by no means uncommon in Italian cities.

Another example is to be seen in Padua, where the old ‘Oratorio di San Giorgio’ is literally overshadowed by the adjacent ‘Basilica di Santo’, dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua.

Elements of the cult of St. George can be found in many other small towns throughout Italy. No fewer that 29 Italian towns and villages bearing the name St. George are listed in touring Gazetteers, and many others which do not acknowledge the Saint in their place-names nevertheless have other ties with
him. For example, the cross of St. George is to be found in the top dexter quarter of the coat of arms of Orvieto. It is prominently displayed in banners hung out on the facade of the Palazzo del Capitano del Populi on festal occasions, and is carried by trumpeters in the great procession in this city on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Yet another small town steeped in the medieval history of central Italy, not far from Orvieto, provides a fascinating but quite different kind of link with St. George. This is Urbino, the seat of the famous Montefeltro family, who provided the most efficient mercenary army ever known to the warring factions of medieval Italy.

The Montefeltro’s of Urbino produced two great leaders: Count, later Duke Federigo (1444 to 1482), perhaps the greatest mercenary condottiere leader of all time, and his son Duke Guidobaldo, (1482 to 1502), ‘a gentle and peaceful prince’, perhaps the greatest humanist prince of medieval Italy, whose adviser and emissary, Baldassare Castiglione, has been described as the ‘perfect courtier’. Such was the fame of these two Dukes of Urbino, that each was elected to membership of the English ‘Order of St. George named the Garter’: Federigo was elected in 1474, and Guidobaldo in 1503. Both were extremely proud of this honour, and the Garter symbol of the Order is profusely displayed on and within the vast Ducal Palace in Urbino, along with the emblem of the Neapolitan Order of the Ermine Collar.

Perhaps the most elegant and impressive display is that to be found in Federigo’s study, a small room with walls and ceiling beautifully decorated with panels of wood inlay. The ceiling is dominated by heraldic badges and insignia, and the Garter, surrounding ‘FD’ for Federigo Dux, is central to the whole of the elegant display of marquetry in this ceiling decoration.

Both father and son were enthusiastic patrons of literature and the arts. Portraits of the hook-nosed Duke Federigo and his wife, by Pierro della Francesca, are familiar to all art lovers. Throughout his adult life Guidobaldo was a patron of Raphael Santi, who was born in Urbino in 1483, and many famous works of this great painter were commissioned by the Duke. Two of these, in the form of a diptych, produced in 1503, especially pleased his patron: these small paintings, one of St. Michael, and one of St. George fighting the dragon with a sword, are today in the Louvre. Struck by the quality of these works, the Duke commissioned his protege to produce a second St. George, to be presented as a gift in the context of his investment as a member of the Order of St. George named the Garter.

This second St. George, also representing the Saint in combat with the Dragon, but this time wielding a lance, is without doubt one of Raphael’s masterpieces, and one of the great ‘icons’ of the Saint in Western art. The garter around the Saint’s left leg, visibly bearing the first word of the motto of the Order, ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’, makes clear the link with the honour conferred on Guidobaldo by Henry VII and his colleagues of the Order. Today it is in the National Gallery in Washington D.C., having passed through many hands and many countries in the course of the last five centuries.

Raphael Washington
St George and the Dragon by Raphael, National Gallery, Washington


Raphael Washington detail
Raphael’s St George – detail

It has been suggested that the painting may have been a gift from Guidobaldo to Henry VII, as head of the Order of 
St. George, but recent researches by Clough suggest that it 
was more probably a gift to Sir Gilbert Talbot who, as a Garter Knight, was sent to Italy by the king to invest Guidobaldo as a member of the Order, two years before he was actually installed by proxy at Windsor in the person of Baldassare Castiglione. This investiture, carried out in Rome, was linked with a very delicate matter of State, in which King Henry was seeking Papal dispensation for his son Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) to marry Catherine of Aragon, widow of his deceased brother Arthur.

The Raphael painting was certainly far more appropriate as a gift for an emissary than for a king. Today of course a genuine Raphael, and especially such a gem as ‘St. George and the Dragon with Sword’, would be judged fit for a king’s ransom, but five hundred years ago a small painting by a relatively unknown young artist at an Italian ducal-court was hardly adequate as a response to the bestowal of such a splendid honour as election to the Order of St. George named the Garter.

Precious gems and Arab steeds and prize falcons were in those days the currency appropriate to such royal and ducal exchanges of generosity. The painting would have been just right however, as a nice little gift for an intermediary knight who had so effectively oiled the wheels of diplomacy in certain delicate matters!

In keeping with the very nature and pattern of Italian devotion to St. George, this chapter has been a pot-pourri of fragmented history and legend, of art and iconography, even of politics and topography. At its end, as at its beginning, it has to be said again that in no way can St. George be termed the official Patron Saint of Italy; but he was and still is regarded as a patron saint, in small letters perhaps, by many thousands, even tens or hundreds of thousands of Italians. This was brought home to the writer more than a quarter of a century ago, during a memorable visit to the beautiful little town of Portofino, on the Ligurian coast not far from Genoa.

This visit took place sometime in May, at a time well after the normal Feast Day of St. George, but perhaps within the double octave which was at that time accorded to a saint of such renown in the Universal Calendar of the Catholic Church. We settled into an attractive old albergho in the centre of the town fairly late one evening, and the next morning walked out to explore the alleys and tiny squares and harbour. To our surprise, there was a sense of excitement in the town, and soon there appeared a long procession led by a priest with his several acolytes, followed by a group of men carrying a casket mounted on a wooden platform, and then by groups of children, some of them in uniform, with a crowd that seemed to be most of the population of the small town bringing up the rear. We made enquiries, and learned that a treasured relic of St. George was being paraded through the town on his special feast day. We joined the rear of the procession, enjoying the light-hearted chatter of the crowd. Periodically fireworks were let off across the bay, and the whole procession would stop so that
 St. George could enjoy the spectacle, with the lovely views which appeared at these strategic points. Eventually we reached a church in the centre of the town, where the casket of the Saint was ceremonially deposited. This parish church of Portofino is dedicated to St. Martin and St. George, but 25 years were to pass before we learned from the writings of Orlando Grosso that this is a familiar and beloved conjunction of patron saints on the shores of Liguria.

The procession resolved itself into a fairly normal congregation which settled down for the festal mass, proceeding in Latin through the familiar sequences. Then came the sermon, and even our rudimentary Italian was enough to enable us to understand the opening remarks of the priest. What he said was quite simple. He was exhorting us all to reflect upon our supreme good fortune in being here today in the presence of our beloved patron St. George, present physically and in person to celebrate the mass with us. As the sermon continued we lost track of much of what he said, but grasped enough to gather the ‘presence’ he was referring to was the Finger of St. George, the genuine relic of the Saint himself, which had been carried in joyous procession through the town before mass. 
The next day we hired a boatman to take us out into the bay, and looking up we saw the cross of St. George flying from a church tower on a hill above the town, just as it might fly from the tower of any one of a hundred village churches at any week-end at home in England. We still have a photograph showiness  the flag flying on the tower, to recall that day. It was a memorable day, long before the writer really started out ‘In Search of St. George’. Perhaps it was a prophetic occasion, unrecognized at the time, but later merging with other congruent memories and events to stimulate the search that has eventually resulted in this written tribute to our Saint.





























[1] Haylyn P                  The Historie of St George, Part 2, Chap II, London 1633

[2] Thurston N              St George, The Month, Vol LXXIV, April 1892, pp 458-483

[3] Grosso O                   San Giorgio dei Genovese, 1914, Genova

[4] Boggeto F                 Chiesa di San Hiorgio e San Torpete, Sagep Editrice, Gonova,                                        1979

[5] Marengo E               Un’ antica Pergamena dell; Archivio di Stato di Genova, 1910                                        cited in Grosso op cit

[6] Grosso O                   Il Palazzo San Giogio, Private reprint 1969, Genova

[7] Ruskin J                    Ruskin’s Venice, ed. Whitttick A., London 1976