St. George – Patron Saint of Beirut

St. George and the Dragon. Gustave Moreau (1889/90)

St. George is rightly known as the ubiquitous saint. His legend extends across different countries and cities, and he is venerated by different Christian denominations as well as some Muslims of the Middle East (he is known as Al-Khodr in the Islamic tradition). St. George is one of the most celebrated saints in Lebanon and is considered the patron saint of Beirut.

Local legend has it that a dragon was present in Beirut that lived in a grotto with seven coves at the mouth of the Beirut river. It had for long terrorized the city’s inhabitants and required regular sacrifices for appeasement. The latest of the latter was the sacrifice of the city’s princess.

Just as the princess was offered up to the beast, however, the valiant warrior George rescued her by slaying the dragon and ending its threat once and for all. He proceeded to wash his spear and his hands clean of the dragon’s blood in the waters of a spring near the grotto*.

The Bay of Beirut thereby came to be known as the Bay of St. George, and the waters of the spring near the mouth of the Beirut River were believed to have curative powers. For many years, the site became a place of pilgrimage where requests for healing were made. The Al-Khodr mosque, previously a medieval church dedicated to St. George, still stands in the vicinity of the Beirut River.

At some distance from where the legend is said to have occurred, “St. George Bay” has more recently come to refer to the small cove near Ain el Mrayseh, where the famous St. George hotel is located. The hotel was built in the late 1920’s and was one of the places to be prior to the Lebanese Civil War. To this day, it is considered a landmark building in the city, both for its history as well as its resilience in the face of recent urban and maritime development. The latter has not only transformed the traditional look and feel of the area, but has also led to changing the name of the bay to Zaytunay Bay**, and in the process, to the chipping away of a local traditional narrative.

*other accounts also place this grotto near the bays of Jounieh and Tabarja, where shrines to St. George are also know to have existed. This only goes to show the extent to which this saint is venerated in the country.

**it is worth noting here that “Zaitunay” references an older naming of the district in the vicinity of the bay. The new labelling of the bay is therefore not entirely without context.

Sources:

Gibson, H. 1971. St. George the Ubiquitous. Aramco World Magazine 22: 6. November/December Issue.

Riches, S. 2015. St. George: A Saint for All. Reaktion Books. UK: London. pp. 38-40.

Collins, M. 2012. St. George and the Dragons: The Making of English Identity. Fonthill Media.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s