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Discover Piana degli Albanesi: St. George of Cappadocia.

On the day we celebrate St. George, our patron saint, we wish to give you the pleasure of this reading. This is an article that years ago I asked Professor Stefano Schirò to write on the occasion of the first exhibition on San Giorgio and on the objects of faith that I organized in the Barbato Museum.

I hope you also appreciate it because it makes us better know our venerable St. George.

I thank the photographer Alessandro Ferrantelli for having allowed the use of his photographs which always give us great emotions.

Salvatore Vasotti


Not everyone knows that the name Cappadocia derives from the word Katpadukya meaning land of beautiful horses. His horses, in fact, are famous for being offered as a gift to the King of Assyria Sardanapalus, to Darius and Xerxes of Persia. But not only that, even the white steed of San Giorgio will certainly be a native of this fascinating region. In reality, in Giorgio's blood flowed a Persian matrix by his father Geronzio and a Cappadocian by his mother Policronia. There are copious sources to draw from in order to reconstruct the hagiography of the saint in question. We cite in chronological order: a Greek epigraph from 368 found in Eaccaea di Batanea which hands down the presence of a "house of the saints and triumphant martyrs George and his companions"; the passio Georgii, classified, however, among the apocryphal works by the Decretum gelasianum (496); the work De situ terrae sanctae (ca. 530) by Teodosio Perigeta in which we write about a sepulcher dedicated to the saint venerated at Lydda (Diospoli) in Palestine, this is corroborated by the writings of Antonino da Piacenza (ca. 570) as well as in Adamnano's De Locis sanctis (ca. 670). Later documents complicate the legend that only belatedly is embellished with the poetic episode of the dragon and the girl freed by the saint (1). This legend had an easy diffusion in Egypt, where the stylizations of the art certainly interested a scene (of which a specimen is now in the Louvre) similar to that of George and the dragon, depicting the god Horu, purifier of the Nile, a knight from the falcon head and in Roman uniform, in the act of piercing a crocodile between the horse's legs.

From the very conception George (2) is predestined for great things; his birth brings so much joy to his parents who educate him religiously until he enters military service. The martyrdom occurred under Daciano (3) (who however in many reviews is replaced by Diocletian) who summons seventy-two kings to decide the measures to be taken against the Christians. George of Cappadocia, an officer of the militias, distributes the goods to the poor, and confesses to the court a Christian; at the invitation of the emperor to sacrifice to the gods he refuses and the numerous and spectacular scenes of martyrdom begin. George is beaten, suspended, torn and thrown into prison, where he has a vision of the Lord who foretells him seven years of torment, three times death and three resurrection. So he gets the better of the magician Athanasius (who tries to poison him) who converts and is martyred; cut in two with a wheel bristling with nails and swords, George resurrects by converting the magister militum Anatolius and all his ranks who are put to the sword. At the request of King Tarquillino he resurrects seventeen people who have died for four hundred and sixty years, baptizes them and makes them disappear; enters a pagan temple and with one breath breaks down the idols. Empress Alexandra converts and is martyred; the emperor again condemns him to death and the saint, before being beheaded, begs from God that the emperor and the seventy-two kings be incinerated; having heard his prayer he lets himself take off, promising protection to those who will honor his relics. The quality of the tortures recalls the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, and the famous story of the dragon, without which we cannot imagine the figure of St. George, can be read in all its details in the Martyrdom of St. Theodore and in the irreplaceable Legenda Aurea by Jacopo from Varagine. The latter author renders the story in an icastic way, enlivening it with the very appropriate use of direct speech. He gives a voice to the embittered king that, unable in any way to save his prey daughter of the dragon, he adorns her with royal robes and embracing her says in tears: “Alas! My sweetest daughter, I hoped to invite the princes to your wedding, to adorn my palace with pearls and to listen to the cheerful sound of the eardrums and organs; instead you will become the dragon's prey! ”. The virility of Giorgio Cavaliere radiates from his own words, as strong as a sword stroke when he addresses the prefect who vainly wants to convert him to paganism: "My name is Giorgio, I come from a noble family in Cappadocia and with the help of God I fought in Palestine; but I left everything in order to better serve God who is in heaven ”. The writer also cites Ambrose, this presupposes an essential knowledge of the patristic writings. He also describes with labor file the various tortures to which "Blessed George" is subjected, also mentioning the horrifying one of immersion in the molten lead boiler: "St. George made the sign of the cross and entered it: and by divine help he bathed in it as in lukewarm water ”. Giacomo da Varazze also gives us some very tasty narrative pages, clear as a Flemish landscape on canvas: “S. George, a native of Cappadocia and tribune in the Roman army, once arrived in the city of Silene, in Libya. Near this city there was a pond as big as the sea in which a horrible dragon was hiding that several times had put the armed people to flight against him ... ". This legend helped to fix the iconography of the bold saint on horseback in the act of killing the dragon, which can be found not only in the Byzantine icons, but also in the sculptural field (the bas-relief of the door of S. Giorgio in Florence from the 13th century , the statue of the portico of the cathedral of Chartres and making a great chronological leap the statue of Girolamo Bagnasco located in the church of S. Giorgio di Piana degli Albanesi (4) of 1832), in the admirable cycles of frescoes of the monasteries of Mount Athos and of the Serbia, as well as in the works of Paolo Uccello, Mantegna, Correggio, Pisanello, Carpaccio, Raphael, in many medieval manuscripts and in the goldsmith's art in which the brezi excels above all, a belt with a central stud in which the saint in question is often sculpted . Here it is necessary to limit oneself to a succinct list. With reference to the aforementioned legend, it should be remembered that the chivalrous epic that flourished at the Este court around Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso probably symbolizes the figures of George and the princess in the two characters of Ruggero and Angelica.

San Giorgio has received a great popular veneration, as evidence of this are the countless churches dedicated to his name, both in the East and in the West. In Jerusalem it existed for example in the century. VI a monastery with a church dedicated to him, as evidenced by a coeval epigraph, as well as in Ravenna. From the Byzantine capital the cult soon extended to Ferrara (ca. 657); in Naples already at the beginning of the century. V the bishop Severo founded the basilica of S. Giorgio Maggiore. In the Byzantine countries it was revered, united with s. Demetrius, with the name of "Christian Dioscuri" (5). In Germany many waters considered miraculous are named after him; while in the Slavic countries customs of pagan origin are preserved in reference to the beginning of spring.

In England, the fame of the Palestinian martyr was already widespread since the Anglo-Saxon era, but his cult took on even greater development after the Norman conquest (11th century). Many were the English kings linked in some way with the saint: Richard I during the III Crusade said he saw the saint with shining armor leading the Christian troops to victory; Edward III introduced the famous battle cry St. George for England, and in 1348 founded the Order of St. George, known as "of the Garter".

Giorgio is protector, with s. Sebastiano and s. Maurizio, of the knights and soldiers, of the archers and halberdiers, of the armourers, of the piumaroli (helmet) and of the saddlers; it was invoked against poisonous snakes, plague, leprosy and syphilis and, in Slavic countries, against witches.

In Piana degli Albanesi, whose feast of the saint is celebrated, according to the eastern calendar, on 23 April (6), many have the honor of being called Giorgio, which gives them, but this is the humble judgment of the writer, particular charm. In England, on the other hand, numerous inns bear the name of St. George, as Shakespeare also remembers in the sumptuous King John (act II, 288); a nursery rhyme recited by the children of northern England sings s. George as a brave knight (7).

Stefano Schirò

con somma devozione


Balboni D.- Celletti M. C., Giorgio in Bibliotheca Sanctorum, Città Nuova editrice, Roma 1965, ad vocem.

Bulley M. F., St. George for Marrie England, Londra 1908.

Da Varaggine J., Leggenda Aurea, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, Firenze 1985.

Guttilla M., Mirabile Artificio 2, Palermo 2010.

Stylianon A., The pointed churches of Cyprus, Cipro 1964.


1 We also recall various panegyrics and fictionalized biographies, as well as the “sacred mysteries” that celebrate the martyr; in the sec. XV was in great vogue the Ludus draconis, which was later imitated by the "games" of the Renaissance courts.

2 The etymology of the term (= farmer) gave rise to original comments on the analogous Gospel passage (Io. 15, 1-7).

3 About the year of the martyrdom, Ruinart, following the Chronicon alexandrinum seu pashale (PG, XCVI, col. 680) fixes 284; others 249-51; still others, interpreting the name of Daciano as Diocletian, place it in 303.

4 See M. Guttilla, Mirabile Artificio 2, Palermo 2010, pp. 194-195.

5 See A. Stylianon, The pointed churches of Cyprus, Cyprus 1964, p. 145.

6 On the same date the marble calendar of Naples of the century commemorates him. IX, of strong Byzantine influence; the Western Churches also set the anniversary commemoration of the martyrdom on April 23 and only the churches of northern Italy report the celebration to the following day (24).

7 M. F. Bulley, St. George for Marrie England, London 1908, p. 30.



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