London dragons mark the boundary of the City of London at many of its entrance points. Like the above one, from the entrance near Tower Hill, they all face outward, towards those who are entering the city. What do they represent? How did London come to use such a terrifying symbol to welcome those who sought to enter the city?
Each dragon bears the flag of the City of London. This is easier to interpret. The flag’s red cross on a white background is the flag of St George, patron saint of England (along with many other nations around the world), and someone considered a great Christian hero. Surely it’s appropriate that England’s capital city bears the flag of the patron saint.
Inside the top left hand quarter of the flag there is an upright red sword. This commemorates St Paul, the patron saint of the City of London. Since the 7th century there has been a cathedral dedicated to St Paul on Ludgate Hill in the City. The sword commemorates Paul’s beheading by sword in Rome c. 66 AD during the persecution of Christians under Nero.
So far so good. A sword and a cross, each commemorating Christian martyrs, on the flag of the City of London. But where did the dragon emblem come from?
The real truth is that no one seems to know. It could be a representative of the Welsh dragon, which is often taken as a representation of the Celtic people in their struggle against the Saxons. Or again, in some of those legends the Celts are portrayed as a red dragon locked in contact with a white dragon who represents the Saxons. So perhaps the London dragon is the Saxon dragon who is fighting against the Celtic one? Perhaps we’ll never know how and why the dragon came to be symbol that protects the Square Mile’s borders.
But there’s surely an irony in all this. Rather than his martyrdom for being a Christian in the Roman Empire, St George is now mainly remembered for (fictitiously) defeating a dragon. But London has the flag of the victorious St George being carried by a victorious dragon.
Perhaps too we shouldn’t forget that dragons in British mythology are often portrayed as greedy creatures fascinated by gold, who kill the innocent, only to steal and horde up their wealth. Tolkien’s tale of The Hobbit is a perfect example of this type of dragon. And we all know that the City of London has a greedy love of money, and has stolen and killed many innocent victims in order to create its vast wealth.
Perhaps too we shouldn’t forget that the Bible portrays Satan as a dragon in the book of Revelation…
So where does that lead us? A City with a profoundly Christian flag, held triumphantly aloft by a dragon that jealously guards its domain, and is constantly greedy for more money, to be accumulated at any cost? Does the London dragon show us that St George won the battle, only to lose the war?
Pray for the City of London, as a city with an identity crisis. Wanting to worship God and do the right thing, but often tempted to acquire and protect its money in a sinister way.
Mark Williamson also blogs regularly at One Rock International, a training organisation resourcing missionary leaders across the globe. He’s passionate about good films, good food, getting into deep conversations, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna.