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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Barcelona, Roses, Books and Sant Jordi


We'd heard about Saint George's Day (Sant Jordi in Catalan) being celebrated in Barcelona, but were told it was really just like a non-commercialized Valentine's Day for Catalans where men buy roses for women. It also coincides with World Book Day, so women buy books for men. Though I have to say, knowing the female readers in my life, I have no doubt many women also buy books for themselves too.

An interesting tidbit we learned, and life moved on.

Then we headed out the morning of April 23. Clearly something was afoot. Tables draped in Catalan flags were set up seemingly every few feet along the sidewalks all selling roses. The odd rose stand had along side it a table selling books. 


Good for Meaghan. She'd paid attention and knew within moments that it must be St. George's Day, and of course, World Book Day.

St. George's Day is celebrated in Catalonia for he is its patron saint. His emblem is a red cross on the white background. So naturally, this flag is seen around Barcelona - including on the crest of the soccer team.

St. George's Cross is on the upper left. The Catalan flag in on the upper right. The bottom  part of the crest are the home colours, and of course, a soccer ball.


You may recognize St. George's Cross as the flag of England. Indeed it is because St. George is also England's patron saint. But George gets around for he is also the patron saint of Georgia (the country, not the US state), Ethiopia, the Hellenic Army and Infantry, a few Greek towns, Genoa, Milan, Beirut, and so many more cities around the world. The Boy Scouts of America have him as its patron saint (who knew they had one?). And finally, he is the patron saint of skin disease sufferers and syphilitic people.

I mentioned the story of St. George slaying the dragon in my last post, but will repeat it here in greater detail. 

A village needed to keep a dragon at bay so that the villagers could gather fresh water in safety. To occupy the dragon, they would give it a sheep. If the sheep didn't hold the dragon's interest, a virgin would be offered (giving one good reason to be a female of low moral character in that village). One day when a virgin was needed, a princess was offered to the dragon. Lo and behold, George came along, made the sign of the cross, slew the dragon and saved the princess. The entire village converted to Christianity as a result. The result being the slain dragon and not the saved princess, for it would have been easy to save the princess by simply not giving her to the dragon in the first place. But I digress.

George was a soldier in the Roman army at a time the Romans didn't like Christians. George spoke out against the Romans' torture of Christians, and of course, refused to participate in such activities. The Emperor was none too happy about this and wanted George to denounce Christianity. George stood firm and was then tortured. He continued to refuse to renounce Christianity, and ultimately found being dragged through the streets to a beheading in what is now Lydda, Palestine. 

At the risk of exposing my lack of a religious education, I had no idea that so many saints were martyred at the hands of the Romans. Ok, I say many, but we've heard this story in Paris with St. Denis, Toulouse with St. Sernin, and now St. George. (And spoiler alert - another one is coming soon!)

I realize that's only four, but it seems to have become a recurrent theme over the last few weeks.

Anyway, in Barcelona, La Diada de Sant Jordi is a big deal. The streets are crowded with dozens and dozens of flower sellers, many of which seemed to be set up and run by different charities.




World Book Day, the other big event, just adds to an already festive atmosphere. Book buyers and sellers are out en masse buying and selling. Publishers set up signing sessions with their authors who crowd along one side of the table waiting to meet fans, sell and sign books. I read that an author will generally have six to eight signing sessions during the day.

We didn't happen upon any of these book signing sessions. They all happen somewhere within this crowd below along and around Las Ramblas. Honestly, I have never seen so many people crammed into the streets. We saw the crowd and decided to move on. Dad and my sister actually did venture into the crowd, but they didn't get very far and returned home without any books. But they did find some mighty fine candy that the kids enjoyed.


We may never celebrate another Saint George's Day in Barcelona, but the day does coincide with the birthday of a high school friend. So hopefully when next year comes along and I think of her on her birthday, I will also think of Sant Jordi, World Book Day and the craziness on the streets of Barcelona.



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