On April 23rd many people all over the world will be celebrating St George’s Day. But, did you know, George is not only the patron saint of England, but also of Georgia, Ethiopia and Catalunya? Read on to discover how the Catalans celebrate La Diada de Sant Jordi in Barcelona.
The Legend of Sant Jordi
Legend says that a terrible dragon once terrorised an ancient land, and to placate the horrible beast, the people would sacrifice local girls from the Kingdom. The day came when it was the turn of the King’s daughter, however a brave knight by the name of George, or Jordi as he is known in Catalunya, saved her by slaying the dragon with his sword. The legend in Catalunya continues that where the blood of the dragon spilled, a rose tree grew in its place. This is why here in Catalunya, Sant Jordi is often associated with roses.
How the Catalans celebrate their patron saint?
On April 23rd, the streets of Barcelona are filled with stalls selling roses, and the sweet fragrant smell of flowers wafts through the air. The celebrations also coincide with World Book Day, being the day that Shakespeare was born (and died), as well Spanish writer Cervantes. Because of this, the streets are also lined with book stalls. Locals gift each other books and roses, and famous authors come to give talks and sign their works at the city’s bookshops. In fact, La Diada de Sant Jordi is the biggest day for book sales in Catalunya during the whole year.
In the days leading up to La Diada de Sant Jordi in Barcelona, kids will go to school dressed as one of their favourite characters from the legend – typically knights and princesses.
Foreigners often mistake this day for being the Catalan Valentine’s Day, and while it might appear that way, because of all the roses, it’s more about celebrating Catalan identity and the legend of Sant Jordi. They still celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14, like many other countries in the world.
Where to celebrate Día Sant Jordi in Barcelona?
Not to be confused with the overly touristy Rambla street, Rambla Catalunya is the street that travels upwards from the northwest corner of Plaza Catalunya and runs parallel to Passeig de Gracia. This is without a doubt one of the most atmospheric streets during La Diada de Sant Jordi – buzzing, full of life and lined with many stalls selling books and roses.
In recent year’s Gaudi’s famous Casa Batlló has been celebrating Día Sant Jordi by covering its facade and balconies in giant red paper roses. It’s quite a sight to behold, so make sure you visit if you’re in Barcelona on St George’s Day.
Casa de Les Punxes
Casa de Les Punxes (House of Spikes) or Casa Terradas as it is sometimes referred to, is another great place to head to on Saint George’s Day. The house was designed by the modernist architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch between 1903 and 1905, and in fact its design as a lot to do with the legend of St George. Firstly, you’ll notice that one of the mosaic panels at the top of the house portrays an image of Jordi and the dragon. Secondly, you’ll find images of roses all over the house – in the mosaics, wrought iron work and tiles. Inside, visitors can learn all about the legend of Jordi, with a fascinating multimedia exhibition tour through the building.
To discover more about the real Sant Jordi and the man behind the legend, take a look at this article I wrote for Culture Trip.