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Riding his white stallion, Saint George stabbed the dragon with his cruciform spear to rescue the princess depicted in his icon. In the background, the city of Beirut arises with its king and queen atop the citadel. Below, the waters of the river, named after the city, are flowing, unveiling the dragon’s lair filled with the remains of its victims.

Legend has it that a permanent threat was looming over the city of Beirut in the form of a dragon, to which the citizens were required to offer annual sacrifices. Several tales claim that the offerings included a lamb, while others allege that a woman was the actual sacrifice. However, all versions agree that ultimately, the dragon wanted the princess (the daughter of the city’s king) for himself. In a heroic act, a holy knight called George decided to put an end to these arrogant demands and stabbed the dragon with his spear. This is how he became the patron saint of the city.

According to traditional beliefs, Saint George was born in Lydia, Asia Minor, and served in the ranks of the Roman legions. In no time, he secured a high military rank and was meant to depart for England and fight there. But when he revealed his conversion to Christianity, he was persecuted and died as a martyr under Diocletian on April 23, 203 AD.

Saint George of Kaslik

The battle with the dragon was long and evolved into many stages. The knight had to hound the monster across the bay, as shaped by Beirut’s peninsula and the northern town of Antelias, a bay that has been named after Saint George. One of the most noteworthy stages of this pursuit broke out even further north, at Cape Kaslik. The knight had reportedly spent the night in one of the caves by the cove, which has ever since been converted into a rock-hewn chapel in his honor. It commemorates the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, one that has been ongoing since the dawn of time.

Icône de saint Georges sur son destrier blanc avec la princesse de Beyrouth en bas à gauche. En arrière-plan la cité de Beyrouth ainsi que le roi et la reine sur la citadelle. En bas les ossements des victimes emplissent la tanière du monstre. ©Boutique Catholique de Saint Joseph

Saint George of Karantina

The final stage of the battle is said to have taken place on the left bank of the Beirut River, where Saint George allegedly defeated the dragon. In around 1340, the German priest Ludolph Von Suchem wrote that this saint “rescued the daughter of the city’s king from the dragon and glorified this land with numerous miracles.”

At the spot where the event is believed to have occurred, a Crusader chapel was erected, which later became the first Saint George Church of the Maronites. It is located between the river and the ancient city of Beirut, precisely where Du Mesnil du Buisson pinpointed the battle scene. The seven Phoenician burial chambers, believed to have been the lair of the monster—often depicted in the icons at the bottom of the scene—are located just nearby. According to Du Mesnil du Buisson, this spot, which is today dedicated to the Virgin under the name of ‘Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Mamelles’, was known until 1549 as the dragon’s “seven mouths cavern.”

In 1395, seigneur d’Anglure (Lord d’Anglure) described Saint George’s Chapel as follows: “Outside of Baruth, about a mile away, is where Saint George killed the snake. And right here, is a chapel. (…) Outside the church, close to the wall, is where the snake was killed.” D’Anglure detected a horizontal marble column inside the chapel, lying in front of the altar. He was told that it had been set there by Empress Helena and possessed healing properties.

The Ottomans      

This renowned chapel, currently located in the district of Karantina, was converted in 1661 by the Ottomans into the al-Khoder Mosque. In this regard, Henry Maundrell wrote in 1697 that near the “broad river of Beirut (…) is a flat field that was allegedly the scene where Saint George fought the dragon.” He added, “In memory of this exploit, a small chapel was originally built and dedicated to the Christian hero, but was later converted into a mosque.” On June 1, 1737, Anglican bishop Richard Pococke visited the mosque and saw the marble column that the Turks kept on using as a miraculous remedy for fevers and pains.

t Guévorg de Quarantina-Rmeil. ©Amine Jules Iskandar


Oftentimes, the Druze princes of the Maan dynasty handed over this church to the Christians, but ultimately, it was taken over by the Ottomans. In 1931, the Armenian Orthodox community built a new church between the al-Khoder Mosque and the river.

Also known as Sourp Guevorg (Saint George), the church’s main façade is adorned with a fresco portraying the battle with the dragon. The Maronites and the Orthodox ended up relocating their Saint George sanctuaries to the heart of the old city. In the 19th century, an old church was supplanted by the Maronite Cathedral, while the Orthodox community kept on expanding its old sanctuary, which was built on the vestiges of the Byzantine basilica.

Fresque de saint Georges à Saint-Guévorg de Quarantina-Rmeil. ©Amine Jules Iskandar

Saint George’s Icon

Typically, Christian iconography portrays the ultimate battle as occurring along the banks of a river, with a fortress lying in the background. The flowing water represents the river known as Beirut’s River, and the fortifications symbolize the city. The queen and the king are also shown handing Saint George the keys to the city. Outside the city walls, the princess, undergoing numerous threats, awaits her martyrdom. In specific icons, she is standing back, close to the city walls, holding a lamb, a symbol of the dragon’s promised sacrifice. From atop his white stallion, the holy knight is stabbing the beast with his cruciform spear.

According to some written documents, Saint George only wounded the monster and tamed it before handing it over to the princess. As mentioned in the Légende dorée (‘Golden Legend’, Jacques de Voragine, Paris, 1920), “The dragon rose up and started following her like a dog on a leash.”

As seen from atop, the hand of God is providentially watching over the saint, while an angel graciously bestows upon him a crown of laurels. Down below, near the river, lies the cavern where the dreaded dragon made its lair. The cave is filled with the haunting remnants of its victims. In the words of Joseph Besson (17th century), “approximately a mile away from the city of Beirut to the north is a cavern where, as the prevailing belief of the land holds, a dreadful dragon has once sought shelter.”

La cathédrale Saint-Georges des orthodoxes à Beyrouth. ©Amine Jules Iskandar


The old legend has clearly transcended the boundaries of Phoenicia and Mount Lebanon, spreading throughout the Christian world. Across the board, iconography relied on indicative elements as location references. It has thus portrayed the waters of Beirut’s River flowing at the feet of the enemy. To dispel any doubts about the identity of this river, it became customary to see the port of Beirut portrayed by 19th-century Melkite artists. However, the true explicit reference is found in Moldavia. At the Voronet Monastery, a distinct inscription clearly mentions the port of Beirut in a 16th-century fresco of Saint George. This city has consecrated Saint George as a symbol of the victory of Good over Evil.