St George and the Dragon

St George and the Dragon

On 23rd April each year the Christian Church celebrates St George’s day. This festival has a special significance for St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, not only because it is named after the saint, but also because of the close association of St George with the Order of the Garter.  When Edward III established the chivalric order in about 1348, he adopted St George, soldier and martyr, as its patron saint and rededicated the royal chapel in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle to St George, St Edward the Confessor and the Virgin Mary. He set up the College of St George in 1348 to care for the chapel and to act as the spiritual arm of the order, worshipping God and praying for the Knights of the Garter in the Chapel on a daily basis. The Dean, Canons, Minor Canons and Choir have fulfilled these duties ever since, apart from a brief interval in the Civil War and Commonwealth period when they were ejected from the Castle.

With St George as the principal of its three patrons, it is not surprising that his coat of arms (a red cross on a white background) and representations of the saint slaying the dragon abound both inside and outside the Chapel – in stained glass windows, statues, roof bosses and other art-forms.   However, this outstanding stained glass image of St George is not to be found within the main body of the Chapel, but in the small Deanery Chapel on the east side of the Dean’s Cloister.

The stained glass is thought, on the basis of its artistic style and the nature of the saint’s costume and armour, to date from the first quarter of the fifteenth century.  Its original location in the College is unknown.  It was rediscovered in 1965, mounted in a seventeenth century casement, behind plaster in the Catherine Room in No. 2 The Cloisters during the restoration of the building and was cleaned and repaired by G. King and Sons of Norwich in 1966. In 1982-83 the head of the dragon, which had been lost at some stage in the past, was reinstated by Cathedral Studios at Canterbury and the panel was installed in its current position in the Deanery Chapel.

The panel shows St George standing on a grassy mound covered wild flowers, stabbing the dragon with a short spear held in his right hand. He wears full plate armour and a rounded helm with the visor uplifted.   Hilary Wayment describes the technique used as ‘outstanding: delicate stippling on the contours, back-painting, and strict control of yellow stain on the edges of the armour and in the dragon’s fur’.* The panel may have been painted by the same painter/glazier who produced figures of St Christopher, St Anne and the Virgin Mary for a window at Thenford, Northamptonshire, who is thought to have been Thomas of Oxford. However, although we will never know for sure who painted it or where it was originally located, the survival of this medieval image of St George and the dragon is little short of a miracle, perhaps one attributable to St George himself.

Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian

*Hilary G. Wayment ‘The Medieval Stained Glass’ in Sarah Brown (ed.) A History of the Stained Glass of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle (Windsor, 2005) p.61

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.