Who is: Sant Jordi

Occupation: Patron Saint of Catalunya. And lots of other places.

Appearance: Visored helmet, chainmail. Tunic emblazones with a red cross on it.

You mean Saint George, that Italian chap who killed a dragon. Contrary to his traditional depiction, experts now claim the Saint was from Capadoccia in Turkey. But yes. The one who, in European Christian folklore, rescued the damsel from the dragon. And inspires all that book for a flower stuff on April 23.

Explain. The scent of roses is in the air, and libros are being dusted off and piled up, ready to adourn the hundreds of bookstalls throughout the city. Young gents and ladies are preparing for romantic promenades in the streets of Cuitat Vella and a visit to the Saint's chapel in the Palau de la Generalitat. Catalonia's dia de los enamorados, Sant Jordi's Day is upon us once again. And on Sant Jordi’s Day, the Catalonian tradition is to present your beloved with a rose. Which she swaps for a book.

Decent bit of business. Not if your girlfriend is into Jean-Paul Sartre and you’re allergic to flowers. All I got was Nausea.

So why the book? As well as being the date of the dragon’s bloody demise on the end of Jordi's lance (according to a version of the tale by Pasicrates), April 23 also commemorates the death of two of literature’s greatest scribblers, Miguel de Cervantes (buried on April 23, 1616) and William Shakespeare (died on April 23, 1616). In 1913 a Valencian gentleman visiting Barcelona noted the general lack of literature being read in Barcelona and decided to honour the date with a special literary event to promote the act of bibliophilia.

What about the flowers? Sant Jordi had long been not only patron of Catalonia but of enamorados. During the medieval age it was customary to visit the Palau de la Generalitat to pay homage to the chaple of the saint, which would coincide with a feria de rosas. Thus every year on this day the palace opens its doors to the public, and the city maintains the tradition of the rose fayre. Each layer of meaning builds on top of the other until you have....

Myth: Indeed. Allow me to refer you to a bronze sculpture on the passion facade of La Sagrada Familia. Dreamed up by the late sculptor, Josep Maria Subirachs, the statue is a strikingly different vision of Catalonia’s patron saint to the romantic knight carved into countless church facades or painted onto tiles over doorways. Interestingly in Subirachs’ bronze depiction of the Saint there isn’t a single dragon, St George’s Cross or lance in sight. That’s because many scholars now claim the idea of the slaying of the dragon was a romantic embellishment thought up by the fertile minds of knights returning from the Crusades.

So what’s the real story? Jordi – say it with a Yorkshire accent, if you like - was a Roman soldier (think Russell Crowe, perhaps) serving in Nicomedia at the beginning of the 4th Century AD, in the emperor Diocletian’s personal guard. In 303, Diocletian had officially authorized the systematic persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire. During the reign of Diocletian’s successor, Galerius, Jordi refused to carry out the edict. So he was clapped in chains, and then tortured and executed. Then, post-humously, Jordi was recognised by the church as a martyr.

Thanks for clearing that up: No problem

Sant Jordi, not to be confused with: Approximately a third of the Catalans you know - extremely popular name, Jordi). Or Sant Joan (that’s when everyone gets drunk on the beach and goes for midnight skinny dips).

Sant Jordi – further reading: The Golden Legend by Santiago de la Voragine (13th Century Archbishop of Genova). A cracking adventure blockbuster swashbuckler of a medieval fable.

Sant Jordi – avoid saying out loud: ‘Jordi’s dragon is really just an allegorical creature representing the threat of paganism and the occult to church ideology.’

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