Even thought it is a working day, April 23, Sant Jordi’s Day is, without a doubt, the most popular festival of all those we find on the calendar of Catalonia.
But who was Sant Jordi?
Sant Jordi, San Jorge, Saint Georges, San Giorgo… call him what you want. He is one of the most venerated saints in all of Europe.
Although more and more voices consider that perhaps he never came into existence, tradition tells us that Georgios, whose name in Greek means the one of works de land, was a Roman and Christian solder. At the time of Diocletian’s persecutions, the last and most cruel of the several that existed, Georgios would not have wanted to renounce his faith and for this, he died martyred. We are talking about the IV century AD. His veneration spread rapidly to Europe from the Near East thanks to pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
But it was the Crusades, in the 9th and 10th centuries, that spread the fame of the soldier-knight, who became a hero in the fight against evil. Thus, quickly, his cult spread thought Greece, Russia, England, Portugal, France, Castile… and also to the lands under the Crown of Aragon.
Such was his influence, especially from the Mediterranean expansion of the Catalan-Aragonese Crown, which in the 15th century Sant Jordi replaced in his patron category Saint Martin, who had traditionally been the most venerated saint of Catalonia since the times of Charlemagne.
Oficially. Because of the protection on Sant Jordi in battle, King James I had already spoken in his chronicles, when he related the conquest of Mallorca. Earlier text also spoke about that and that made in the paradigm of the medieval knight.
The hero and his legend
The best-known legend of all those around him tells us about his fight against the dragon. Actually, we are dealing with a myth that comes from cultures prior to and that already appears in Egyptian mythology, in Persian and even in Mesopotamian cultures.
In Catalonia, this legend places Sant Jordi fighting on the walls of Montblanc, a city located between Tarragona and Lleida. Montblanc, dominated by a terrible dragon that spewed fire from this mouth, lived in terror. To try to calm the bad mood and the hunger of the beast, the inhabitants of Montblanc sacrificed animals until they had no more living creatures besides human beings. And so the council decided to sacrifice the maidens.
Legend explains the bad luck that wanted the first of the sacrificed had to be the daughter of the lord of Montblanc. And when the young woman had resigned herself to go to the cave where the monster was hiding, Sant Jordi appeared with his shining armor riding a white horse and with a huge spear he pierced the neck of the dragon, which fell dead at his feet.
From the big pool of blood that fell there, a rosebush of red roses was born. Sant Jordi picked up one of them and gave it to the princess.
And that’s it.
We don’t know anything else. We do not know if the married or not, if they were happy forever or if they divorced. Nothing else. We only know that as early as the 15th century, in Barcelona, a Fair of Roses was held in the recently inaugurated Generalitat Palace, and that day, the gentlemen gave roses to their ladies.
But in Catalonia, Sant Jordi’s day has become the Festival of the Rose and also of the Book.
These are the presents expected on Sant Jordi’s day. There aren’t surprises, everything is established. Nor should you break your head thinking about how to surprise your partner with.
A rose and a book
A red rose. Or any color, because apart from the red ones, there are white, yellow or pale pink roses. And in recents years, also blue, violet black or even with petals of different colors. The important thing is that’s a rose. To choose the color comes later.
And a book. The tradition of giving a book for Sant Jordi’s day is added to the party already at the beginning of the 20th century. A book, whatever it is. It doesn’t matter whether it is a treatise on philosophy or a novel of intrigue or a comic. The important thing is that it is a book.
April 23 is a day closely linked to literature. It was in April 23 1616, when Miguel de Cervantes died. And that same day, even if according to the Julien calendar, William Shakespeare also died. So for about a hundred years, the present of the rose was added the one of a book.
Celebrating Sant Jordi with a mask
This is a summary of the history of Sant Jordi. Now it’s up to you, reader, to make your own Sant Jordi story.
After a year like the last one when we were confined at home, this year the virus gives us a truce and allows us to celebrate it by going outside, but this time without the large concentrations of pre-covid times. It is as if once again Sant Jordi has emerged as a victorious hero in his fight against evil. Against #covid19.
The spirit of Sant Jordi is still among us. And so, once again, we celebrate in Catalonia the day of lovers, the day of love, but also the day of friendship by filling the streets of towns and cities with stands of roses and books ornaded with the senyera, the flag of Catalonia .
Don’t stop offering a rose or a book to your lover, or for anyone you want to tell how important it is to you. Or for yourself. Because we all deserve a rose and a book, at least once a year.
Happy Sant Jordi 2021
And when we can travel again, do you want to take a walk with us through the Gothic Quarter and find some of the many representations of Sant Jordi that decorate its buildings? Or, if you prefer, spending the day outside Barcelona to find the traces of Sant Jordi in the territory. You can go to Montblanc to know the place where everything happened.