Guelph’s Favourite Saint

Dragon slayers, miracle workers, champions of the poor. Their acts of bravery and charity inspired Guelph’s early settlers. Now their names adorn our schools, churches, hospitals and businesses.

I’m talking about saints – the subject of a new exhibition at Guelph Civic Museum created by local artist, Debbie Thompson Wilson.

The inspiration for the show came when Wilson noticed just how many places in Guelph are named after saints. “One day, I started counting them up, and there were over 30,” says Wilson. “I realized that many people don’t know much, if anything, about the saints that their organizations or buildings are named for.” We walk past their namesake landmarks without giving them a second thought.

Until now, that is. The exhibit juxtaposes Wilson’s stunning miniature paintings with historical photos and artefacts from Guelph’s saint-named landmarks.

. . .

Today, we are going to look at a few of Wilson’s paintings of St. George – truly one of the world’s most popular saints.

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Guelph loves this guy. Not only did early settlers name a downtown square and a church after him, but Guelph was also founded by John Galt on St. George’s Day.

There are many variations on the classic tale, but here is the basic outline:

A city is being terrorized by a disease-spreading dragon.  The townspeople try to appease the dragon by feeding him sheep, but it soon becomes apparent that the dragon has a taste for human blood and won’t be satisfied by anything less. The city begins holding a lottery to determine who should be sacrificed to the dragon. When the name of the King’s daughter is drawn, a knight decides to take action. He bravely rides out to the dragon’s lair and transfixes the dragon with his lance. He then asks for the princess’s girdle, which, strangely enough, he puts around the dragon’s neck. The dragon now follows tamely behind the princess as they head back to the city to rejoice with the townspeople.

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It’s a tale modern day Guelph could really get behind. The dragon, who spreads pestilence with his breath, is clearly a grade A air-polluter, and very out of touch with Guelph’s green ethos!

St George

Dragons capturing princesses is a common premise in fairy-tales and legends. With Much More Munsch going on, we’ve been telling Robert Munsch’s princess and dragon story, The Paperbag Princess, a lot recently here at the museum. Munsch does something really interesting and admirable (and #fullguelph) in his version, subverting conventional gender roles: Munsch’s princess saves the prince from the dragon rather than the other way around.

Saints Preserve Us is open now and runs until March 22. Stop by and check it out! Check out our interview with Debbie Thompson Wilson.

Posted by Dawn Owen on November 14, 2014