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Friday, April 23, 2010

Is the White Horse really a Dragon?

Today is St George's Day, the patron saint of England, and in celebration I am posting up a picture of the actual place where he slew the dragon. Yes, Dragon Hill, near Uffington in Oxfordshire has been identified as the site of the dragon-slaying and as "proof " there is a patch of chalk on the top of the hill where the grass never grows because this was where the dragon's blood was spilt. You can see the patch in the photograph. It's a wonderful story and a fabulously atmospheric place.

According to legend, St George was a Roman soldier who killed the dragon to save a princess. In this picture the dragon appears to be smaller than St George's horse, which isn't really a fair fight, and the setting doesn't bear much resemblance to Uffington but we must allow for artistic licence.

Just above Dragon Hill is Uffington Castle, an Iron Age hillfort and on the side of the hill is one of the most famous chalk figures in the country, the Uffington White Horse, which has been dated as being over 3000 years old. To the west of Dragon Hill is "the manger" (picture below right) where the horse is said to come down to graze on the night of the seventh moon.

But some people think that the famous Uffington White Horse is actually a depiction of St George's Dragon. Horse or dragon? What do you think?


Alison said...

Interesting idea you can see what they mean about the horse possibly being a dragon - and Happy St. George's Day!

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you, Alison! Yes, it's an interesting interpretation. The White Horse is so stylised it could actually be a different beast! Stunning beautiful, whether dragon or horse.

Gillian Layne said...

How interesting. My romantic heart would say dragon (or poor, slain dragon).

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Happy St. George's Day!

Nicola Cornick said...

Mine too, Gillian! it's much more intriguing and romantic!

Thank you for the good wishes, Elizabeth. We couldn't have had a more beautiful day for our national day!

NinaP said...

Happy St. George's Day to you Nicola!

Dragon or horse... my heart says horse. The shape is so fluid and gentle. Not the least bit upsetting.

Love the pic of "the manger." England is so beautiful. It is true that one could stand upon any hill in Lancaster County (just NW of where I live) and enjoy nearly the same verdant view. But the "Depth of Soul” I imagine England possesses... is just not there.

Tell me, Why is St. George the patron saint of England?


Nicola Cornick said...

It certainly is a very elegant shape, Nina. And yes, there isn't any menace in it that I can see.

The view from Uffington hillfort and the manger is to my mind one of the most stunning in the country. To the south you have the Downs and to the north the huge flat expanse of the Vale of the White Horse as far as the Cotswold hills. On a clear day it is enchanting. And when it is twilight or dawn, or misty, or windy, and you're alone on the hill (with your dog) you really do feel the ghosts of the past pressing close. Perhaps it is that which characterises English landscapes; that depth of history and atmosphere that you so poetically call "depth of soul," Nina. I often think you can "feel" the layers of history in Britain.

Nicola Cornick said...

Good question, Nina, given that St George was born in Turkey!

I understand that he was adopted as the English patron saint by the crusaders in the 13th century because they felt an affinity with a martial saint. Other people may have a different interpretation but that is what I had read.

Jan Jones said...

Oh, I so want it to be a dragon!

Nicola Cornick said...

Me too, Jan - it appeals to my romantic soul!

NinaP said...

Oh, to stand upon that hill (with my dog) and feel those ghosts pressing close.
To know their minds, their joy, their pain,
And if the life they led was of truer gain.

Did the wind whisper closer to your heart than mine?
Do you long to know when bloodied swords will not shine?

Has your soul ached for more than a few?
Would you spurn God and I sometimes do?

Press closer to me now, fill.
Spring alive in me as I spring from you,
Flowing out from this ancient land where time forever stands still.

Ok, Nicola. This is what your provocative posts do to me. Now, what do you have to say for yourself? ;-)


Nina, back to the ms.

Anne Gracie said...

Nicola, I don't care if it's a horse or a dragon, I love the white horse. I remember the first time i saw it, I was a child, raised on magical stories and I thought it was pure magic to see it on that hillside.
As an adult I've seen it (and the other white horses) a number of times, and i still think they're magic.

Happy St, George's Day (even if he did go about slaughtering endangered species ;)

Keira Soleore said...

Nicola, you live in God's own country in Oxfordshire. Everything seems to be happening around you. Or is it like that with every blade of grass anywhere in England?

Happy St. George's Day!

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you very much for the poem, Nina. I'm sorry to distract you from your manuscript - but it was well worth it! Absolutely beautiful.

It is a very potent symbol, isn't it, Anne. I always marvel to see it. The carved chalk figures are fascinating - I feel another blog coming on!

Keira, I do think that it is like that here in England. In almost all places you are aware of the history all around you. I did a radio programme about this a couple of years ago and commented on that feeling of thousands of years of history walking with you.

Anonymous said...

This place means a great deal to me, one of those places where you go and it just takes your breath away. It is said that if you step on the eye you may have an epiphany :) personally I believe that it's what a horse is, rather than what a horse looks like. Almost as if it's the horses soul :)

Anonymous said...

Turn the black and white image of the Ufington white 'Horse' upside down and it Magicly transforms into a Dragon ! From Donna Hopkins x