If you’re in town this week, Monday is Saint George’s Day –the Patron Saint of Catalunya– and the streets will be full of stalls selling roses and books, as well as excited, happy people enjoying this traditional Catalan festivity. It’s a kind of local Valentine’s Day.
This is one of Catalonia’s most popular festivities and people throughout the principality enjoy spending their time browsing the stalls to buy a book and a rose as gifts for their partner or, if they don’t have one, for someone else they love. Traditionally, a man would give a rose to his partner and she would give him a book, but nowadays people give both to their partners and to other loved ones as a token of affection.
Roses for Saint George's Day:
Barcelona’s streets are beautiful on Saint George’s Day; the colourful rose stalls and booksellers’ stands are everywhere, bargains and best-sellers abound –popular authors madly signing copy after copy– and the balconies are decked with the gold and red of the Catalan Flag. If you have a walk around, you’ll probably see rose stalls belonging to NGOs or charities, perhaps you might prefer to buy from these rather than some of the more commercial stalls.
Perhaps you can give a loved one a pleasant surprise as a fond remembrance of your stay in Barcelona.
The tradition of giving a rose on Saint George’s day is said to date from the 15th century Festival of Roses, celebrated on the 23rd of April by which time Saint George was firmly established as an important Saint and when the sculpture you can see on the façade of the Palau de la Generalitat in Carrer Bisbe was made.
The rose bedecked Palau de la Generalitat is open to the public on the 23rd of April, so this is your chance to see Marc Safont’s wonderful Gothic architecture on the Ceremonial Stairs, Gothic Gallery and the Chapel of Saint George, and Pere Mateu’s Pati dels Tarongers, all hidden behind the Neo Classical Façade. The Sardana national dance is widely performed on this day.
Saint George appears in several accounts of battles in Catalunya –naturally, on the winning side– and Jaume I mentions the Saint’s contribution to the conquest of both Mallorca and Valencia.
This may seem strange to some because Saint George –as the first Crusaders discovered to their dismay in the 11th century– was known to the Saracens as the Green Knight and appears several times in the Koran, as well as in many popular legends in which he rescues damsels from dragons.
The name George means farmer or person who cares for the land, the saint has always been connected with the springtime, and he is a protector of the harvest. It is perhaps also for this reason, along with his legendary penchant for rescuing damsels in distress from marauding dragons, (a rose bush is said to have grown from the dragon’s spilt blood) he is associated with the romantic gift of a spring rose. Perhaps also George’s connection with husbandry is the reason the roses all come with an ear of wheat, usually tied to the stem with a little ribbon of Catalan Flag.
The gift of the book on National Book Day is a much more recent tradition, beginning in 1926 throughout Spain. The 23rd of April was chosen because it was the date of Cervante’s death. Although the custom disappeared in many areas of Spain, the practice soon became popular in Catalonia and quickly became part of its Patron Saint’s Day, its origin soon forgotten.
Have a nice day!
Eixample, Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla Catalunya
* PeterGuest is our Been there local for Barcelona. You can read his profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/barcelona-local-peter-guest.jsp and follow his tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/PeterGuest. Meet more of our locals here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/trails/been-there-locals.jsp
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