Holy Land: Elijah and Saint George

You can read more about the Christian legend of Saint George at Wikipedia.

George's birthplace, Lydda, is the modern al-Ludd (Hebrew Lod), a Jewish and Arab city located southeast of Tel Aviv in Israel. During the sixth century, the city was known as Georgiopolis, "The City of George." When under Crusader occupation in the twelfth century, it was known as St. Jorge de Lidde.  For more about Lod, see Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Holy Land Folklore unit. Story source: Folk-lore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish by J. E. Hanauer (1907).

Elijah and Saint George

Among the Jews Elijah is considered not only as the special guardian of Israel, but as the invisible attendant at every circumcision and, as such, a special seat is prepared for him. In like manner a chair and a cup of wine are placed ready for him at the time of the Paschal anniversary. Amongst the Armenian Christians at Jerusalem there is a belief that if, at a meal, a loaf, or even a slice of bread, happen accidentally to fall or otherwise get into such a position that it stands on edge on the table, it is a sign that Mar Jiryis is invisibly present as a guest and has condescended to bless the repast.

The story of St George and the Dragon is, of course, well known in Palestine. The saint's tomb is shown in the crypt of the old Crusaders' Church at Lydda, and at Beyrût the very well into which he cast the slain monster and the place where he washed his hands when this dirty work was done. The following is, briefly, the tale generally told by the Christians:

"There was once a great city that depended for its water-supply upon a fountain without the walls. A great dragon, possessed and moved by Satan himself, took possession of the fountain and refused to allow water to be taken unless, whenever people came to the spring, a youth or maiden was given to him to devour. The people tried again and again to destroy the monster; but though the flower of the city cheerfully went forth against it, its breath was so pestilential that they used to drop down dead before they came within bowshot.

"The terrorised inhabitants were thus obliged to sacrifice their offspring or die of thirst, till at last all the youth of the place had perished except the king's daughter. So great was the distress of their subjects for want of water that her heart-broken parents could no longer withhold her, and amid the tears of the populace she went out towards the spring, where the dragon lay awaiting her.

"But just as the noisome monster was going to leap on her, Mar Jiryis appeared, in golden panoply, upon a fine white steed, and spear in hand. Riding full tilt at the dragon, he struck it fair between the eyes and laid it dead. The king, out of gratitude for this unlooked-for succour, gave Mar Jiryis his daughter and half of his kingdom."

As already remarked, Elijah frequently appears in Jewish legends as the Protector of Israel, always ready to instruct, to comfort, or to heal — sometimes condescending to cure so slight a complaint as a toothache, at others going so far as to bear false witness in order to deliver Rabbis from danger and difficulty.

The modern Jewish inhabitants of Palestine devoutly believe in his intervention in times of difficulty. Thus, among the Spanish Jewish synagogues at Jerusalem, there is shown a little subterranean chamber, called the "Synagogue of Elijah the prophet," from the following story:

One Sabbath, some four centuries ago, when there were only a very few Jews in the city, there were not men enough to form a "minyan" or legal congregational quorum. It was found impossible to get together more than nine, ten being the minimum number needed. It was therefore announced that the customary service could not be held, and those present were about to depart, when suddenly a reverend-looking old man appeared, donned his "talith" or prayer-shawl, and took his place among them. When the service was over, "the First in Zion," as the chief Rabbi of the Jewish community at Jerusalem is entitled, on leaving the place of worship, looked for the stranger, intending to ask him to the Sabbath meal, but he could nowhere be found. It was thought this mysterious stranger could have been no other than the famous Tishbite.

(700 words)

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