george of lydda - soldier saint & martyr

by Isobell Hill Elder (Merch O Lundan Derri)

In this work is told again the story of St. George whose courageous defence of the principles of liberty and freedom earned for him the unique title “Champion Knight of Christendom.”

The historic truth concerning our Patron Saint is here presented in a concise form, disengaged from the network of fable which gradually overlaid the story of a soldier-saint in its progress through the centuries.

St George is seen, not as a mere legendary figure, but as a living man in conflict with the forces of evil, and as the victorious defender of early Christianity.


Both Constantine and St. George served under Galerius in the Egyptian and Persian campaigns and between the two young Christian soldiers a lasting friendship was formed.

"Helena was unquestionably a British princess", states Melancthon and Sozomen writes: "it is well known that the great Constantine received his Christian education in Britain". "Constantine", writes Polydore Vergil, "born in Britain, of a British mother, proclaimed Emperor in Britain beyond doubt, made his natal soil a participator in his glory ."

Britain's "primacy in regard to Christianity" could not possibly have been more clearly demonstrated on the page of history than by this son of the British Helena, founding his Empire and being crowned in Britain and going thence, in July, 306, supported by native British troops to conquer and Christianise the Roman Empire, and "plant the cross of Christ on the throne of the Caesars."

According to the Greek Church it was at this Council of Arles that Constantine proposed that his former companion-in-arms, the martyred George of Lydda, should be chosen as the model and example of the young manhood of Christendom, and was henceforth termed the "Champion Knight of Christendom".

After the Council of ArIes, the Bishops became a regular Court party with free access to Constantine's presence. There was usually a group of Churchmen at Court whom he consulted; and further, the Edict of Milan changed the Christian Church from an organisation barely tolerated by the State to a legally authorised corporation recognised as holding corporate property, and the clergy were by Constantine exempt from paying tax.

The symbol of the Cross was in use in pre-Constantine days though for fear of the reproaches of Jews and heathen not yet in its proper form but only in a form that indicated what was meant, namely, in the form of a Greek T . In the West the symbol came to be known as "The Cross of St. George". England is the only country that has adopted the Red Cross of St. George as its National ensign. The reason for this may perhaps be found in Hardynges fifteenth century "Chronicle" where a still earlier origin is claimed for our Red Cross device connecting it with Joseph of Arimathea.

Constantine rebuilt churches that had been destroyed during the Diocletian persecution and gave liberally to charities. "By the Edict of Toleration (Milan) the Christian churches were to become legally collegia; guilds; corporate bodies with rights and liabilities defined by law. The Christians, however, were remarkably slow to respond with enthusiasm. The Church refused to be a collection of colleges; it planted its standard for freedom of organisation and universality of membership."

Upon the site of the place of execution where St George was beheaded, Constantine and his mother Queen Helena, erected a Church which at present time is used for Mohammedan worship and known as Mosque of St George. Upon the site of the shrine erected over the remains of St George at Lydda Constantine built his magnificent Byzantine Church. Constantine is known to have dedicated twenty-one churches to the honour of St. George.

The first Church of Jerusalem dedicated to St. George is said to have been erected by the Empress Helena near to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the time of her sojourn at Jerusalem in A.D. 326. In the opinion of the archaeologist, Dr. Conrad Shick this tradition is based on the truth.

Constantinople, rebuilt by Constantine in A.D. 330 on the site of the ancient Byzantium, was the first purely Christian city ever built; no pagan temple was open for public worship within its bounds. This "City of Constantine" was made by its builder the capital of the Roman Empire.

"Constantine was baptised in the Lateran Palace by Sylvester, Bishop of Rome. He gave him the palace which had witnessed the baptism. He gave him the dominion over the city of Rome, over Italy, over the Western Empire.

"Ah Constantine to how much ill gave birth .
Not thy conversion, but that plenteous dower.”

So Dante wrote in the bitterness of his heart of what he believed to be the origin of the Pope's temporal sovereignty. This would appear to be the historical reason that the Palace and Church of the Lateran rather than St. Peter's and the Vatican, form the nucleus of Christian and Papal Rome. Here and not in St. Peter's have all the Roman Councils been held. This and not St. Peter's is the Cathedral Church of Rome. Here and not the Vatican was the early residence, and still takes place the enthronisation and coronation of the Popes. On the throne of the Lateran and not on the chair of St. Peter's is written the inscription:

"This is that gift if you the truth will have
Which Constantine to good Sylvester gave."

As a thank offering for victory over the Moslems Richard Coeur de Lion rebuilt Constantine's Church at Lydda over the tomb of St. George which had been destroyed by the Persians and rebuilt by Justinian; destroyed by the Saracens and rebuilt by Richard, who replaced the ancient structure by an edifice 250 feet long and 200 feet wide. This Church was kept in repair with oak from the royal forests down to the time of Edward IV.

Reproduced by the Golden Age Project as a tribute to the scholarship of Isobel Hill Elder.

British Church Index