When you write historical novels set in eighth century Europe, you know saints are important. Christians often prayed to them for their intervention, and for a church, having a relic, even a scrap of cloth or a finger bone, raised its prestige.
So as I wrote The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, I needed to know when certain saints lived. Or rather died. Or had their heavenly birthdays. Plus, I needed to know when their story reached the faithful and what version they would have likely heard. I say likely because most of the populace was illiterate and a legend could spread by word of mouth long before it was written down. Establishing when and how the story got to an area is a tricky, if not impossible, business.
Saint George came to mind after I read Helena P. Schrader’s informative post, “England and St. George” on English Historical Fiction Authors. Helena discussed how a soldier who lived and died in the Middle East around 303 became so closely associated with English identity.
But I knew Saint George – or rather his story – had a presence in Europe long before the Crusades, where Helena starts her post. During a visit to a museum in Schleswig, Germany, I saw a Dark Ages wooden statue of George slaying a dragon, and when I sat down to write my books, I knew he was safe to include.
Recently, I got to wondering just how the legend of Saint George reached Europe. When I turned to the 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia, this sentence got my attention: “Apart from the ancient origin of St. George in Velabro at Rome, Clovis (c. 512) built a monastery at Baralle in his honour (Kurth, Clovis, II, 177). Arculphus and Adamnan probably made him well known in Britain early in the eighth century.”
Suddenly, I had tons of questions: When did Clovis convert to Christianity? Who were Arculphus and Adamnan? Read my post at EHFA about Saint George in Dark Ages Britain for the answers. Or my best guess of how the legend of a martyred soldier from the Middle East arrived on the British Isle and why Christians in early medieval times embraced him.