Most Europeans will know the legend of Saint George and the Dragon, but if on April 23 they happen to be in Barcelona or the rest of Catalonia they might ask themselves why la Diada de Sant Jordi is celebrated on this particular day and why with books and roses.
Why April 23?
According to legend, the dragon killer Saint George allegedly turned up at different times and in different locations around the world, but the martyr with the Latin name Sanctus Georgius was a Greek who, in the 3rd Century, lived in present-day Turkey. He was a soldier in the service of Rome, but since he was a Christian, he at one point refused to carry out an order to imprison all other Christian Roman soldiers, and as punishment he himself was executed because of his faith. The day when St. George died and thus, according to the faithful, entered into his eternal life is said to have been on April 23.
In the Middle Ages, St. George became a popular saint with Europe's nobility and especially among the knights since he had been a soldier. The reason why feelings for this warrior were especially warm in Barcelona was that at several times throughout history he had appeared on a white horse and saved the Catalans during difficult battles. That was why, in the 14th century, they built a chapel in his honor in the palace Palau de la Generalitat (where the Catalan Government resides) and in 1456 he was declared patron saint of Catalonia.
The link between roses and the Diada de Sant Jordi most likely has its origin in the tournaments which the nobility of Barcelona used to organise to celebrate St. George, where the winners received roses which they subsequently handed over to the young ladies, whose hearts they were trying to win. Already in the 15th century this tradition had evolved so that, on this day, the Palau de la Generalitat held a Fair for Lovers (Fira dels Enamorats) to which people went in couples and where every lady was expected to carry a rose, just given to her by her partner. Only in the 19th century did this celebration spread to the rest of Catalonia.
Since the commemoration of Sant Jordi of our days bears a strong character of support for the Catalan language and culture, it might seem odd that the book tradition in fact came here thanks to Spain. In 1923, there was a desire to establish an annual Book Day and the choice fell on April 23 because that was when the Spanish national poet Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra died (or at least the day when he was buried). However, this new tradition never got particularly strong, except in Catalonia, where it was rapidly incorporated into the existing Sant George celebrations.
In 1995, when UNESCO introduced what we now call the World Book Day, the Catalan book tradition related to this day served as inspiration, but the reason why the organization selected April 23 was mainly due to the fact that a number of famous writers have have passed away on this date, above all William Shakespeare, but also aforementioned Cervantes (well, almost, anyway), William Wordsworth and Catalan Josep Pla.
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Mona and Göran: In this week’s video, Swedish Göran (living in Garraf) explains the strong ties between St George and the Catalan nation and language, while his equally Swedish wife. Mona emphasizes that this is a day for everyone also for those who speak Spanish. But this time they have to get along -- since 'Sant Jordi' is also the Day of Love.
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Earlier related posts:
2010: The Day of Sant Jordi in Vilanova i la Geltrú, 2010
2008: Saint George's Day - el Dia de Sant Jordi
2007: Come on a weekend, Sant Jordi
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