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Saint George and The Dragon sculpture

Saint George and The Dragon sculpture
Saint George and The Dragon sculpture

Public Art: Saint George and The Dragon sculpture (St Göran och Draken)

Sculptor: © Berndt Notke (1440-1509) copy.

Cast: Moulded by Otto Meyer.

Date Unveiled: October 10th, 1912 on the 441st anniversary of the battle of Brunkeberg between the Swedish regent Sten Sture and the Danish King Kristian I.

Description: Saint George and the Dragon sculpture is a bronze copy of the original oak statue by Berndt Notke which is standing inside the Stockholm Cathedral. The sculpture depicts the knight with his sword raised up as about to deliver the final blow to the dragon, who is lying injured on it’s back after having been lanced.

In modern legend, the statue is said to be symbolic of the Battle of Brunkeberg in which Sweden was successful over Denmark with St George representing Sten Sture and the dragon representing the Danish King Kristian I. The sculpture is perched on a granite pedestal.

Location: Köpmangatan (Merchants’ street which is the oldest recorded street in Stockholm), in the old city of Stockholm, Sweden.

Saint George and The Dragon sculpture

Inscription translated into English :

Saint Georges’ tune inspired the Swedish men during the battle of Brunkeberg
Saint Georges’ image makes us remember the Swedish victory

Battle of Brunkeberg: In May, 1471 Sten Sture the Elder was elected as viceroy of Sweden and promptly announced his desire for Sweden to withdraw from the Kalmar Union. This union basically united Denmark, Norway and Sweden together under a single monarch. With word of Sten Sture’s victory, the Danish King, Christian I, set sail to Sweden with his military force intending to oust Sten Sture.

On October 10th, Sten Sture and his biggest supporter Nils Bossom Sture devised a sneaky little plan to surprise attack the opposing forces. Sten and his men would attack from the west, Nils from the east and Knut Jönsson Posse (Swedish General) from the city. Note, not all Swedes supported Sten Sture and many sided with the Danish King. The battle raged for hours with the Danes surrounded on three sides. The end was near when Christian I was hit in the mouth with a bullet (shattering his front teeth) resulting in him fleeing from the harbor over a sabotaged makeshift bridge. The bridge collapsed resulting in many Danes either drowning or being captured. Sten Sture was victorious, having successfully defended Sweden. 

Background To the Stockholm St George and the Dragon Myth: The original statue of St George Slaying the Dragon was commissioned by Sten Sture the Elder, to “supposedly” commemorate his victory over King Christian I of Denmark in the 1471 Battle of Brunkeberg because, according to legend, Sture had prayed to Saint George before the battle. Sten Sture is depicted as St George defending the princess (Stockholm) against the nasty dragon (Denmark). However many historians believe this to be a simply a myth made up by Swedish nationalists in 1885.

Background of St George: St George was claimed to be a Christian martyr who was born in Palestine. St George became a Roman soldier (like his father) who ironically became a member of the personal guard attached to Roman Emperor Diocletian. Emperor Diocletian, not being a very nice man, ordered the persecution of Christians in AD303. George was ordered to participate in the killing and torture but refused and instead declared himself a Christian. This did not make the emperor very happy and he ordered the torture and execution of his guard. After being put through the ghastliest of tortures, George was decapitated. So horrified was one witness that when he told  Empress Alexandra and Athanasiusto of George’s plight he convinced them to become Christians, so they too could join George in martyrdom. George’s body was returned to Lydda where Christians soon headed there to honor him. In 494, George was canonized as a saint by Pope Gelasius I.

Background of St George and the Dragon: So how did the connection between St George and the Dragon develop? There are many versions and legends about “St George and the Dragon” but one of the Western version goes something like this; A dragon living near the city of Lydda (or city of Silene in Libya) decides to make its nest right near the spring which provides the water supply to the city. The desperate locals, who were unable to retrieve the water from the spring, had to devise a plan quickly. So they decided that each day they would choose a sheep or a virgin (by drawing lots) to be sacrificed to the dragon. The reasoning was that the dragon would have to move off its nest to devour the poor soul thus allowing the city folk to grab the water from the spring. One day a poor princess drew the short straw (so to speak) and despite objections from the monarchy was sent off to become the dragon’s next feed. St George who was riding through the city, minding his own business, sees the princess in distress and bravely confronts the fiery beast. He raises his lance and slays the dragon. So grateful are the city folk they abandon their paganistic ways and convert to Christianity.

Other myths and legends include the battle between the storm god Tarhun and the dragon Illuyankas, the story of Perseus who kills the Dragon saving thus the maiden Andromeda, or the defeat of Typhon by Zeus.

Trivia: Evidently in the original sculpture the dragon has both male and female genitalia. Oh, and the dragon also appears to be defecating.

It has been hinted by various authors that Bernt Notke may not have been the carver of the original sculpture. It has also been hinted that the artist came from Antwerp but was later murdered (yes, murdered) by Sten Sture to ensure the piece could not be recreated. Another author suggests the artist was murdered by the female model’s jealous husband.

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