Land Pavilion

Part of the Mythic Creatures exhibition.

Fearsome, greedy, foul, and treacherous, the dragon has been reviled in the Christian world as the image of evil. In many stories from medieval Europe, a dragon dies by the sword of a brave and honorable hero, ending a battle between sin and virtue, darkness and light. One legend tells of a Christian soldier who slays a dragon in a distant province of the Roman Empire, saving the life of a princess and rescuing her city from harm. After converting the town to Christianity, he travels on to become a defender of the faith, revered as the Christian martyr Saint George.

Historiated initial 'C'? depicting St. Margaret (vellum) by Master of San Michele of Murano (early 15th c.)
Credit: Muse Marmottan, Paris, France, Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library

Ancient Enemy

The evil dragon of European myth is at least as old as the Christian Bible--and probably much older. In a vision described in the Book of Revelation, written in the first century, the devil himself appears as "a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads." When the dragon wages war in heaven, he is defeated and cast down to earth by the archangel Saint Michael.


In pictures from the Middle Ages, the dragon sometimes has the long, scaly body and fangs of a snake. It is often connected with Satan, who takes the form of a serpent in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve.




Statue of St. George and the Dragon, Europe, c. 1500. Sandstone. Canadian War Museum.
© AMNH / D. Finnin

Statue of St. George and the Dragon

A European sculpture shows a dragon being crushed by Saint George, who wears the cross of a Christian Crusader. According to one account, their battle took place in Libya, North Africa, where the dragon was terrorizing a city with its venomous breath. Only Saint George, a Christian soldier, was brave enough to face this frightening creature. He subdued it by cutting the sign of the cross in its scales. Images of the dragon slayer Saint George are popular in many countries in the Christian world, from England to Ethiopia.