Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sant Jordi a.k.a. Saint George

Part I—The Present Tradition

In America, as in many other countries, Valentine’s Day on February 14 marks the day for the commercial sale of roses, chocolates, and romantic dinners. A single or a dozen roses is given to a lady friend as a chivalrous expression from a male partner.

In Catalonia, Valentine’s Day is also celebrated, but not by all. Most Catalans refrain from participating on this non-Catalan holiday to celebrate instead Sant Jordi. They wait for April 23rd for an exchange llibres and rosas. It’s a holiday similar to Valentine’s Day involving roses and love, but goes much further to denote Catalan patriotism, being that St. Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia and Barcelona.

People pour the streets of Barcelona to slowly pace the endless book and rose stalls. Couples stroll crowded streets looking for the perfect book that will please, in this case, a male partner. Book stores from all over the city set up in different locations to sell the latest thriller, best seller, or poetry book. Traditionally on St. Jordi, it is the male figure that receives a book while he gives a red rose to his sweetheart. This exchange of llibres i roses  is not just between els amants, but also between family, friends or anyone you may esteem. Modern times, however, has altered the idea of un home receiving a book; nowadays, the dona also receives one.

There are as many rose stands as there are book stalls. From florists to college students, everyone is out to make a euro. College students hope to raise funds for their university club as florists hope to advertise their flower shop. You will see roses ribboned with the Catalonia flag symbol—four red stripes and five yellow stripes. The rose will also have a wheat spear to symbolize fertility. The most popular street to visit is Rambla Catalunya that begins at the northern end that intersects Avinguda Diagonal, and a few paces away from a dreary looking sculpture of St. Jordi by sculptor Joan Rebull.

You may also visit the 2012 clicking here  St. Jordi 2012 in Black and White

Lovely, velvety roses
Blue roses are an alternative to the innocuous red ones.
Roses and wheat bundles.
Musicians  adding a festive beat in front of a government building.
I know this cigarette smoking man.
Knights selling roses.

Writers waiting to sign autographs.

Rambla Catalunya--so crowded with people.

People sorting through books.

No explanation needed.

Part II—Is He Golden legend or Real?

I could start by telling you that this famous knight slew a people eating dragon in Montblanc in the province of Tarragona some 100 kilometers south of Barcelona or I could tell you he really existed some 2,000 years ago. Jordi or George was the son of Gerontius, a roman solider from Cappadocia and Polychronia, his Palestine mother from Israel. George was born in Syria Palaestina somewhere between 275 AD and 285 AD. Both parents came from noble Christian families and consequently raised George as a Christian. When his father dies, Polychronia returns to Lods, Israel with little George in tow and gives him an outstanding education. George, however, decides he wants to follow in the footsteps of his father and becomes a soldier.
He goes to the imperial city of Nicomedia, which is presently called İznik in Turkey, and applies to be a soldier in Emperor’s Diocletian’s army. He gladly gives George the job as soldier having remembered George’s brave Roman father Gerontius. As George matures into his 20s, he proves to be a mighty fine soldier and is promoted to Imperial Guard. Everything seems to go in George’s favor until Diocletian issues an edict to persecute all Christians. George/Jordi bravely declares to Diocletian that he will not kill Christians, openly declaring that he is also a Christian.

Diocletian is stunned and maybe a bit guilt ridden that Gerontius’s son will face death if he does not renounce his Christian beliefs for pagan worship. Diocletian tries to persuade George/Jordi with land gifts, money, and slaves. But none of those material gifts sway George/Jordi to give up his Christian beliefs. Knowing his mortal fate will soon be over, George gives away all his wealthy possessions to the poor.

Diocletian decides to slowly torture George, perhaps hoping that George will give up his Christian beliefs and become a pagan. George, however,  is eventually decapitated in front of Nicomedia’s city walls on April 23, 303 AD. It is here that martyrdom for Saint George begins, his body is returned to Lydda in Palestine for proper burial. Christians begin to venerate him as a martyr and a church is eventually erected in his honor during the reign of Constantine I. The basilica is destroyed in 1010 AD and subsequently rebuilt in honor of St. George by the Crusaders. Veneration for St. George extends to the West by the Crusaders and that is why this popular saint is patron to countries such as Portugal, England, Russia, Greece, and many others. 

Forlorn looking St. Jordi by Joan Rebull.

If you were a princess, would you trust this knight to save you?
St. Jordi sculpture by Eusebi Arnau on the facade of Casa Amatller by architect Puig I Cadafalch.

St. Jordi on the facade of the Palau de la Generalitat; sculpture by Andreu Aleu. This patron saint is an ever present figure on buildings throughout Catalonia.

Part III—Montblanc Legend

Tuesday, January 13, 756 AD
Flames, flames, flames. Lots of red fire licking flames in my village of Montblanc by that ever persistent dragon that cannot keep his belly full. Everyday this beast comes out from its cave and pounds the earth with his weight, letting us know that soon he will be at the gates of our village, bellowing his cry until a feeble villager throws an animal at this continually famished beast. His tail pounds the ground, shaking homes made of mudbricks and thatch. The quakes sometimes upset rooftops and send chunks of straw to the muddied ground below.

All the villagers are out of chickens, goats, and only a few sheep remain. The remaining few will be given to the dragon today tied to a post outside the village walls.

Saturday—March 10, 756 AD
I feel the earth tremble again. The dragon will be at the gate again. The villagers met last night at the cavern and have agreed to give up their livestock to the dragon. We will be left without milk and meat soon with this new implication. Already the village suffers from the want of eggs, goat’s milk, and sheep wool. Farmer Bernat has the largest stock of cattle, and has agreed to tie a cow every third night at the gate. The village men do not know how to rid the mountain side of the dragon. They ploy ways to trap the dragon and kill him, but none so far have been set out to rid our people from this greedy dragon. The weather is still miserable outside and we feel hopeless.

Thursday, April 20, 756 AD
Terrible, sad news has reached all the villagers, including me. There are no more cows left to give to that raging beast that torments us. There are no more animals left to sacrifice. I never thought that I would have reason to fear for my life behind the castle walls that protect my family and me from danger. I have watched the village grow in togetherness for fear of the dragon. But my father, the king, has agreed with the villagers that a human sacrifice is presently needed to quell the dragon's hunger until a solution is found to slay him. The name of every villager was written on paper, including my family's. The first name drawn was mine. My knees weakened and I swayed in fright as my nursemaid held me up when my father told me of this abhorrent news. My father wept on his throne when he told me that I would be the first maiden sent to the dragon for sacrifice. News of my cruel destiny reached other villages as far as Balaguer and La Seu d’Urgell, and knights have come to my father’s castle with a promise to slay the dragon. If they succeed in slaying the dragon, my father has promised my hand in marriage. 

Saturday, April 22, 756 AD
My father cannot bear to see me tied outside our village fortification, right outside the portcullis. So I have decided I will walk up the mountain at first light and meet the dragon in his cavern. My father and mother will be spared the agony of watching that cruel beast snatch me with his powerful jaws and devour their only child.

Sunday, April 23, 756 AD
I am alive! I had almost reached the cave when I heard the sound of hooves approaching. I looked over my shoulder and  saw a young knight bearing a long and gleaming sword at his side. He wore a white tunic with a red cross, like the ones I have seen crusaders wear when they stop for rest at our castle. He asked my name and immediately knew of my royal title. His knight name is Jordi, but he did not identify for whose lordship he battles. When I explained why I was climbing up the mountain he cast me aside and told me to hide in the woods. I did as he said, and kept a fair distance from him as he rode up to the dragon’s den.

The alert dragon immediately stepped out from his dwelling and without delay blew fire from his mouth. The quick and agile knight held up his shield and protected himself from the fire. This happened a few times as Knight Jordi held his shield up to the flames to keep from scorching. Upon the third fire breath, the knight dropped his sword unable to hold onto both the sword and the sizzling shield. He swiftly claimed his sword again and ran beneath the dragon’s belly; the dragon lolled his long neck from side to side looking for the knight. A few tree tops were scorched as the furious dragon spewed forth his flames thinking the knight had run to the woods. I could feel the remaining heat from the tree cinders, as I was not too far away from the dragon and the knight.

The brave knight regained his strength, and when the dragon twisted its neck back trying to look for him, Jordi came out from under the dragon’s belly and plunged the sword straight to the dragon’s heart. The dragon’s limp neck hung forward looking for the knight. The beast opened its jaws again to breathe fire or perhaps to devour Jordi. The knight removed the sword from the dragon’s heart and swung it at the dragon’s head, creating a second pool of blood.

The dragon’s head crashed to the ground almost crushing the knight. Seeing that the dragon was almost vanquished, the knight struck the dragon’s heart a second time.  Blood poured steadily from the beast’s heart to the ground, until its last beat made his entire body collapse lifelessly. I neared the exhausted knight and everything in me surged with relief and excitement—our village would no longer suffer. I neared Knight Jordi and planted on his cheek a kiss of gratitude. He appeared surprised at my gesture and faintly smiled at me. I felt something underground push my feet upward, making my feet slip sideways. I held on to the knight and he immediately set me aside. He stared at the ground in disbelief, as did I. A long stem began to sprout from the ground where the dragon’s blood coagulated. The stem quickly turned into a stalk and when it reached the height of my waist, a rose bloomed. 

We stood there in awe of such unexplained phenomena. When the rose stopped growing the knight cut the rose from the stalk and gave it to me as a gift to commemorate the dragon's death. 

Live action
Which Holiday Do I Prefer?

Cigarette smoking man and blogger.

Both. I appreciate the focus of love on Valentine’s Day with the romance of dining at a restaurant. I also like Sant Jordi because of the romantic legend behind the celebration, the passionate search for the right book, and of course the rose. 

I decided that I would give my home (man) a book by Paul Auster, Sunset Park, to get him out of his preference for high fantasy epic books. He on the other hand decided to give me a book by Catalan journalist Pilar Rahola. Fins ara and petonets!

p.s. don't forget to check out Sant Jordi 2012


  1. I like the book idea muchisimo!

  2. Oh, Jordi, Jordi! Wherefore art thou, Jordi? I've no dragon for you to slay, unless you count the weeds in my front lawn. Here's your spade, er, sword. :o)


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