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Sant Jordi

Sant Jordi in Barcelona

The 23rd of April marks Sant Jordi -the “Valentine’s Day of Barcelona.” This day celebrates love, books, roses, and the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. The streets are filled with roses and book stalls, and the people come together in processions and activities to make Barcelona an even livelier and joyful city. Read on to learn more about the history and traditions of the day, and what to expect going into this Sant Jordi season. 

Saint George in Barcelona

Sant Jordi

History of Saint George

The story of Sant Jordi, or Saint George, is filled with fantasy, bravery, and love. As the story goes, the city of Montblanc (Tarragona) was, long ago, taken over by a hungry evil dragon. In order to keep it happy, the people of Montblanc were forced to feed it one person from the town per day, chosen at random through a drawing. 

 

A few days in, the princess was chosen, and the brave Saint George rode in on his white horse and stabbed the dragon, saving the princess and the village at last. From the dragon’s blood grew a rose bush with the reddest roses ever seen. George picked one and gave it to the princess, and they all lived happily ever after. 

 

The real history of Saint George is slightly different. The real Saint George lived in 2nd and 3rd century A.D. He was decapitated on April 23rd, 303 A.D. after he refused Roman emperor Diocletian’s orders to persecute Christians. It is also said that he was not under orders to persecute Christians, but was one of the persecuted Christians himself. And even other sources go so far as to say he was executed upon converting to Christianity. Regardless, he was soon after revered as a martyr, and venerated in the 8th century as one of the 14 auxiliary saints in Catholicism.  

 

The cult of Saint George spread throughout Catalonia in the Middle Ages, and some version of Sant Jordi has been celebrated since the 15th century. It wasn’t until the Renaixença- a political and cultural movement in the 19th century- that Sant Jordi started to become as popular and important as it is today.

 

This legend is celebrated in some other European countries as well, such as England, Greece, and Portugal, but it is definitely the biggest in Barcelona. Sant Jordi in Barcelona hosts such a wide and unique variety of beautiful and intriguing festivities- it’s definitely worth getting out to take them all in. 

story-of-sant-jordi

Patron saint of Catalonia

Sant Jordi, or Saint George, is the patron saint of Catalonia, and has been since 1456. This basically means that Saint George guides and protects the region, acting as a heavenly advocate. Saint George in some form was also adopted as patron saint during the Middle Ages to England, Genoa, Venice, and Portugal, as well as many others. He was so popular largely because of his personification of the ideals of Christian chivalry- choosing martyrdom over renouncing God. 

Catalan Valentine´s day

Because of the recurring rose theme and the love story present in the legend of Saint George, Sant Jordi is often considered by Catalonians to be Catalonia’s version of Valentine’s Day. While Barcelona celebrates Valentine’s Day as well, it is nowhere near as big or festive, and holds little importance in traditional Catalan culture. So, if you have a significant other this spring, make sure to plan accordingly! 

Books

Another aspect of Sant Jordi is the importance of books! This theme was not tied in until the 20th century, but it is a big tradition in today’s celebrations of the day. On the days surrounding Sant Jordi, you will find book stalls lining many of the streets- most notably La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia. It is typical to buy new books for yourself and loved ones, and it is even common for local authors to use the day to promote their books. You will see many authors hosting book signings and promotional events, talking to customers, and more. 

 

The origins of books being connected to the festivities started in 1929, when Barcelona hosted the International Exhibition on April 23rd. Booksellers decided to set up stalls and booths in the streets to promote their new books, and it was such a success that they soon established April 23rd as “Book Day” in Catalonia. It helps, as well, that April 23rd was the death date of two of the most famous authors in history: Cervantes and Shakespeare. 

 

Because Sant Jordi is largely a day celebrating love, it is also tradition for you to present your significant other with a book. Typically the women gift books to the men, although it is not a hard and fast rule. People all have their own way of celebrating this day. 

World Book Day

The impact of Catalonia’s Book Day has been widespread. So much so that, in 1995, UNESCO’s General Assembly declared April 23rd “World Book and Copyright Day.” Book Day is now celebrated in schools and communities throughout the world.

Roses

Roses are one of the biggest themes of the festivities, and you will see booths and stalls selling roses lining the streets in the days surrounding the event. The origin, as mentioned before, comes from the legend of Saint George and the dragon. When Saint George slayed the dragon, from the blood of the beast grew a rose bush with the reddest roses ever seen. 

 

In the same way Saint George presented the princess with a rose, it is common tradition for you, too, to present your significant other with a rose on this day. While in original form, the men presented the women with a rose, this dynamic has become much more fluid in recent years.

Cultural activities

There are a number of activities held around Sant Jordi, in commemoration of the holiday. In the small town of Montblanc, just outside of Barcelona in Tarragona, a medieval week is held to celebrate the legend of Sant Jordi. Additionally, on the 23rd of April, the Palau de la Generalitat and Catalan Parliament open their doors to visitors. Lastly, all of the book and rose stalls previously mentioned, the biggest part of the holiday, can be found in every neighborhood in Barcelona. 

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló, created by Gaudí in the early 1900s, is unique and fascinating and one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Barcelona. A lesser known fact, however, is that the house’s architecture is based on the story of Saint George. Intricate details in and on the house reflect back to different aspects of the story. The roof, for example, features scale-shaped tiles to represent the dragon. And pillars resembling bones are supposed to represent the remains of the dragon’s victims. 

 

Thus, on Sant Jordi, Casa Batlló goes all out. From April 21st to the 23rd, the house will be seen decorated with (and covered in) roses. And at the gift shop, you can purchase special limited-time-only Sant Jordi-related souvenirs. If you can, definitely stop by during this festive holiday to enjoy the celebrations and learn more about the history behind what the house and the day represent. 

casa-battlo-sant-jordi

Barcelona: City of dragons

Barcelona’s devotion to dragons is curious and hidden, but, now that you know to look for them, you’ll start seeing dragons all around the city. In parks, atop buildings, carved into stone, even formed out of sand on the beach. Despite the rest of the world’s view of dragons as symbols of evil and destruction, Barcelona actually views the creature as a sign of solar and fertile power, a bearer of life, and a connection between the sky and the earth. 

 

Many of the most famous sights in Barcelona have dragons somewhere in them. While they aren’t all dedicated to the legend of Saint Jordi, quite a few are, and all of them are still worth seeing. Below are a few of the more famous dragons, or ones that are dedicated to the legend of Sant Jordi. Click here for a more complete list. 

Palau de la Generalitat

The Palau de la Generalitat houses a statue of the triumph of Sant Jordi over the dragon. Created by Andreu Aleu, this statue is the most central of countless dragon elements found throughout the building. You can also see dragons made by Frederic Galcerà at the fountain in the “pati dels Tarongers” (orange tree patio), and in the gargoyles in the same courtyard. 


Additionally, on Carrer del Paradís, the street just behind the Palau de la Generalitat, you’ll find Sant Jordi (Saint George) chiseled into the wall, depicted slaying the famous dragon from the legend. The slaying of the dragon in these contexts represents for the Catalonian people and the institution of the Palau de la Generalitat hope for their own triumph over the economic and political suffocation that they have and continue to endure. 

Park Güell

One of the most famous dragons in the city can be found in Gaudí’s Park Güell, made of colored glass in a beautiful mosaic pattern. This dragon was made to represent Python, the serpent that, in Greek mythology, Apollo killed and buried beneath the Temple of Delphi. The meaning has been somewhat lost today, however, and now acts more as yet another dragon symbol of Barcelona. 

The casa de les Punxes

In the Casa de les Punxes, a mansion located in Eixample, you’ll find an entire museum dedicated to the legend of the battle of Sant Jordi. One of the highlights is mosaic ceiling featuring Sant Jordi as a slightly disgruntled saint, treading on a furious dragon, alongside a well-known quote: “Patron Saint of Catalonia, give us back our freedom.” 

Sant Jordi & food

Pa de Sant Jordi (bread) is a loaf of bread made with sobrassada (a pork sausage from the Balearic Islands) and cheese that, when sliced, shows the four stripes of the senyera (the Catalonian flag). Barcelona baker Eduard Crespo came up with this bread, and it can be found in any cake or bread shop all over Barcelona during the days surrounding Sant Jordi.

 

Additionally, the pastís de Sant Jordi (cake) is a traditional dessert of the day. Shaped like a book, the dessert consists of layers of sponge cake made with sugar, almond, and egg. The layers are separated by chocolate, and the top layer, which represents the book cover, is coated with glazed sugar and a symbol from the day (a dragon, rose, senyera, or other Sant Jordi motif). The cake dates back to the 1940s and 50s, but originated from a similar thirteenth-century recipe.

 

If you get the chance, make sure to check out both of these foods. They play a crucial role in the culture and celebration of Saint George, and for good reason- they’re delicious!

Things to do

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