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University Historian Explores Why People Believed in Dragons in St George's Day Talk

Today, dragons are the mythical creatures of legend, linked to the adventures of England’s patron saint and, more recently, to the fantasy world of hit novel and TV series Game of Thrones.

But, as a special talk in Worcester, to coincide with St George’s Day, will explain, they were once regarded as very much real, with some reports of supposed ‘sightings’.

University of Worcester Historian, Professor Darren Oldridge, will show how such beliefs shed light on the way people once saw the world around them.

“Today these mythical monsters are a staple of fantasy fiction, but people once believed that they were real,” said the Professor of Early Modern History.

“Dragons featured in scholarly works of natural history in the seventeenth century, and sightings were even reported in England in the same period. According to the English naturalist Edward Topsell in 1608, the evidence for their existence was strong enough to ‘satisfy any reasonable man’.”

The talk, entitled Why Did People Believe in Dragons?, takes place at The Commandery in Worcester on Saturday, April 21, at 2pm.

Professor Oldridge says that the belief in dragons partly stemmed from the religious attitudes of the times. Their existence was stated in The Bible and Christian traditions, including the adventures of St George. He said the great authorities of western culture of the day, including St Augustine, who provided the first written account of flying serpents, also confirmed the reality of dragons.

“With the invention of printing, knowledge of dragons spread among educated people throughout Europe,” said Professor Oldridge whose book, Strange Histories, places belief in dragons in the larger context of late medieval and sixteenth and seventeenth-century ideas. “In 1587 the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner produced a comprehensive study of the beasts, which became a standard reference work for later writers. The aquatic cousins of dragons - giant sea serpents - also featured in learned publications on the marvels of the world.  Occasionally, enterprising hoaxers printed reports of dragons, like the ‘strange and monstrous serpent’ that supposedly roamed in a wood in Sussex in 1614. These reports were credible because the existence of such creatures was already acknowledged. I am interested in these beliefs because they help us to appreciate how people in the past understood their world.”

The talk is free to visitors but normal entrance charges will apply. To reserve a place email commandery@worcestershire.gov.uk.  Students at the University of Worcester can book free entrance for the talk by emailing ihca@worc.ac.uk