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Saint George and the Dragon

Original version
Saint George was a soldier of Cappadocian Greek origins and a member of the Praetorian Guard for Roman emperor Diocletian. Saint George was sentenced to death for refusing to give up his Christian faith. He is one of the most venerated saints in Christianity, and he has been especially venerated as a military saint since the Crusades. In our imagination this knight-martyr is the saint that “kills the dragon”. As narrated in the Golden Legend by The Genoese Bishop Jacobus de Voragine (also known as Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Varagine), the event is well-known: Selem is a city in Libya and it is besieged by a horrible monster. To keep the monster at peace, the citizens offer the dragon one among the youngest maidens in town as a sacrifice. One day the daughter of the king has to be sacrificed; St. George appears riding his horse and he manages to neutralise the dragon. He then asks the princess to tie the dragon with a rope and to lead it into the town. The dragon appears tamed and quiet: witnessing this prodigious event, the king and the whole population converted to Christianity. The dragon was then killed by the Saint. The iconography of this saint is based mainly on this episode, while his other miracles and his martyrdom are seldom represented; the dragon becomes his characteristic feature.
Main characters
Saint George (a saint, a knight and a martyr) The princess the Dragon
Connected artistic / architectonic / historical heritage
Palazzo San Giorgio is one of the most relevant and well-known historic buildings in Genoa. The palace is located in the docks area and is formed by two different parts: the ancient one, a typical example of medieval architecture and the Renaissance one, oriented south. The palace was built between 1257 and 1260 and was commissioned by the Capitano del Popolo Guglielmo Boccanegra, The project for the new public palace was given to Frate Oliverio, a Cistercian monk, who had already designed the extension of the Ancient Dock to the sea. According to a legend, during the second half of the 13th century, Marco Polo was held prisoner in the basement of this palace. Since 1340 the palace became the headquarters of the authorities for the supervision of port trades, of the customs and of the offices of the authorities entrusted with the management of credit from citizens to the Municipality. In 1451 it became the seat of Banco di San Giorgio, one of the first European banks, which was so rich and powerful to lend money to kings and queens all over Europe. Since 1451 the entire building got its name from this Bank. In 1903 the palace became the headquarters of the Port Authorities, which was called Consorzio Autonomo del Porto di Genova. San Giorgio Church The church of San Giorgio has very ancient origins which date back to the year 1000 and the Byzantine garrison in the city. During the Middle Ages, the church was one of the seven churches of the city to have a parochial title. In the XVII century, however, it was demolished and rebuilt by the Theatines in the current layout, which takes up the ancient Byzantine form with a central and octagonal plan, like the pre-existing Romanesque church.
Local traditions or historical connections
The first texts related to the episode date back to the 11th century and include already all the elements that we know: the lake monster, the princess saved from its jaws, the domestication of the dragon led to town, the conversion of its citizens. The story of St. George and the dragon would have been known only in eastern regions, if Crusades hadn’t taken place. During the Crusades, in 1098, the Genoese people helped the crusaders fighting to free the city of Antioch from the Turks. During the battle, Saint George appeared to the Genoese army surrounded by a lot of flags showing a red cross on a white background and the battle was won. Christians easily identified with a knight-martyr who had liberated the region from the infidels (the dragon). For this reason, he became the Patron Saint of Crusaders. In a short time the cult of St. George spread all over Europe. The Genoese in particular venerated this saint dearly. He was so loved that the city of Genoa adopted the coat of arms of the Saint and dedicated a military knightly order to him. In addition to that, the government of the city allowed the most renowned citizens the privilege to decorate the portal of their houses with a marble relief showing the image of the Saint. Saint George also appeared on the city coins. The red cross on a white background is still present both in the banner of the Municipality of Genova and in that of the Region Liguria, but it also characterizes the flags of regions and nations that have shared part of their history with Genoa (such as Sardinia and Corsica). The banner was adopted by England about a century later, when His Majesty's subjects asked and obtained the possibility of using the Crusader flag to have their ships protected by the Genoese fleet in the Mediterranean Sea and in part of the Black Sea by piracy attacks ; for this privilege the English monarch corresponded to the Genoese government an annual tribute.
Didactical Relevance
The legend allows the students to meet one of the most famous Saints in Europe, to develop their knowledge of the period of the Crusades and of the famous Knights.
Didactical Activity
Step 1: Start the didactical activity with Geography. Ask the students to geolocalize Genova in Liguria, Northern Italy. Ask them to consider the position of the city on the sea and to consider its economic relevance in Italy. Consider the network of connections (the railways, the highways, the airports) which make the city a “hub” for tourism, economy, culture. Find out the resources for tourism offered by Genova, such as the museums, the monuments, the parks, the churches. Step 2: A study of the History of the Middle Ages can complement the general picture: have the students research on medieval history from the religious, social and political point of view. Focus on the figure of the medieval knight fighting in the Crusades in the Holy Land. Step 3. Art: Ask the students to localize the the Church of san Giorgio and Palazzo San Giorgio in a map of the city of Genova and to look for pictures of these two buildings. Ask them to focus on the most important parts of the monuments. Step 4. Literature: It is important to teach the students how to read a legend and to connect it to local traditions and history. Ask the students to read the legend and reflect on it. The presence of the knight is common to many other legends all over Europe, ask the students to read the other legends by the partners on this “Parsifal” portal and to select those which have the knight as one of the characters, then ask them to find common elements and differences. To develop their creative writing ability, it is possible to ask the students to write their own version of the legend. Step 5: Religion. Ask the students to reflect on the lives of the most common saints, on the legends in which they are involved, on the teachings and messages and on their relevance in modern times. Step 6. A class trip to Genova (full day)


UNESCO Heritage Site : The Rolli in Genova
This is a short video by UNESCO describing some of the famous buildings and private palaces in the city which are in the UNESCO list
Saint George and the Dragon, the legend
The video is a cartoon narrating the legend, not only for children but for everyone


A marble relief of the saint
This pannel is still in its original place, above the door of one of historical buildings in Piazza San Matteo in the historical city centre
A marble relief of the Saint
The picture shows one of the many marble pannels which decorated the doors of the private houses of the most famous Genoese families. The relief dates back to the Middles Ages and is now kept in the Museum of Genoese Art and Architecture
The Palace of San Giorgio
The picture shows the Renaissance part of the building with the painting of the Saint on the front. On the left it is possible to notice the oldest medieval part of the building in red brick
The Church of San Giorgio
The Church is located in the oldest part of the historic centre of Genova

External Sources

The Rolli
The site has a complete list of all the buildings - called "Rolli" - which are in the UNESCO list, to which the Palace of San Giorgio belongs
The official site of Visit Genova, with a link to Palazzo San Giorgio
The site offers both cultural information on the monuments and practical information for a stay in the city

PDF version of the legend in national language