The Mariapfarr St. George Fresco: Upper Half

Circa 1425
Pfarrkirche Mariapfarr (Parish Church in Mariapfarr, Austria)

Some of the details in this image are from the Golden Legend, while others are found in the anonymous Acta published in the Acta Sanctorum (April vol. 3, 117-22). At the very top of the upper register, a man in a crown or pillbox hat appears to be directing the dismemberment of St. George from the ramparts of a walled village. In the Acta the iniquities are directed by the Emperor Diocletian, but the man pictured here seems to be a person of less than imperial dignity. Perhaps he is Dacian, the "provost" who directs the action in the Golden Legend.

Below him in the middle we see George with the townspeople, holding a little book and preaching against idolatry. This reflects the Legend but not the Acta, where George's audience is the Roman Senate. At the right the executioners cut the saint into pieces, as the Golden Legend says, "between two wheels, which were full of swords, sharp and cutting on both sides." Then they bury the body parts in a lime pit, as mentioned in the Acta alone.

In the lower register, just below the lime-pit episode, is the episode that follows it in the Acta. Three days after having George's body parts buried, Diocletian worries that the Christians might erect a monument at the pit, so he orders the men to dig up the parts and scatter them. When they do, they find the body intact and in a splendid garment, "as if he had just come from a banquet and raising his hands to Heaven in thanksgiving" (ibid., 119, my translation).

On the left and right of the disinterment are scenes from Diocletian's persecution of the Christians. On the left, three men dismember a victim and cast his body parts into a cauldron. (His mustache and slight beard distinguish him from the images of St. George, who has no facial hair.) On the right, two other men behead Christians and throw their heads and trunks into a common grave. Among the victims is a crowned queen. In the Legend Dacian's wife converts, "and so she died and went to heaven." In the Acta Diocletian's wife, "the Empress Alexandra," not only converts but denounces her husband's errors to him and is beheaded along with George (ibid., 22).

Behind the grave, angels carry the Christians' souls aloft. The Golden Legend says 22,000 were killed in one month.

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Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.