Broughton church was under restoration. It was 1849. In the nave, the restorers removed the 16th Century plaster, and to their surprise found a set of magnificent wall paintings. They’d been hidden for three hundred years.
The largest and most dramatic painting is of Saint George, in mortal combat with the Dragon.
St George is on horseback and wearing armour, and the painting show the moment when he thrusts a lance into the Dragon’s mouth.
Behind them we can see the Lady Cleodelinda, and a small sheep. St George’s head is missing, victim of past alterations to the church. The paintings were there to teach the faith to people who could not read.
The story of St George and the Dragon is at least a thousand years old.
The Dragon was plaguing the countryside near the city of Silene, in Libya. He had made his nest at the local spring, source of all the fresh water for the city.
The king offered the Dragon two sheep a day to eat, hoping to persuade (bribe) it to leave Silene alone, and to allow the people to fetch water. But it wasn’t long before the city was running out of sheep.
The dragon was always hungry. The city’s offering had to rise to one sheep and one man, then when all the sheep were gone they began offering their children and youths, chosen by lottery.
Every child or youth in the city, rich or poor, had their name placed in a large jar. Once a day, an official reached into the jar and took out one name, the dragon’s next victim.
When the princess Lady Cleodelinda’s name was pulled from the jar, the king offered gold and silver to the people, to spare his daughter. Naturally they refused. Cleodelinda was taken to the spring to be the Dragon’s next meal.
The dragon approached, licking its lips. As the princess stood firm and prepared to meet her fate she saw a knight approaching upon a white charger, bearing the red cross on a white background of a Crusader. It was St George.
He realised what was about to happen and attacked the dragon. They fought bitterly, and the Dragon received a dreadful wound from St George’s lance.
St George called to the princess, asking for her to throw him her girdle (her belt). He put one end of the girdle around the Dragon’s neck as a collar, and gave the other end to the princess. The Dragon, now on a lead, meekly followed the princess back to Silene. St George rode in with them.
When they arrived at the city, the people were terrified at the sight of the Dragon. St George told the people that if they would agree to become Christians and be baptised, he would slay the evil creature.
Fifteen thousand men and women including the king converted to Christianity. St George took his sword, kept his promise, and beheaded the Dragon.
The story is almost certainly an allegorical tale about the battle between light and darkness; good and evil.
St George is believed to have been born in Cappodocia, part of modern day Turkey, around 275-280 AD. He was not a knight, but probably a soldier in the Roman army. Some say his parents were both Christians, while others say his father was a Roman soldier, and his mother might have been a local girl.
It’s believed that St George was martyred on 23rd April, 303 AD, executed for refusing to make a sacrifice to the Pagan gods. The story of the Dragon came much later.
During the Third Crusade in the 12th Century, Richard the first placed his army and himself under the protection of St George, and adopted St George’s emblem; the red cross on a white background we know today. Crusaders wore it as a uniform, and later it became the flag of England.
There are other paintings in St Lawrence’s Church, Broughton, and some of the stained glass windows are from Victorian times, in those rich colours I like so much.
Before Milton Keynes came along, Broughton was a tiny village on the road from Woburn Sands to Newport Pagnell. It had probably been rather bigger when the church was built.
The last time I visited this church was in 2015, and I found a notice in the porch telling me where to borrow the keys from. I expect it’s the same arrangement now.
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