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dimarts, 22 d’abril de 2014

23rd of April: Day of Saint George, of the book and the rose



On Saint George’s, a rose and a book. This tradition, which combines religion
with the rose as a symbol of love and the book as a symbol of culture, has
turned the 23rd of April into the fondest, most shared and celebrated day for all
Catalans.

Saint George: history and legend
In spite of the profound devotion that Saint George received in Europe during
the Middle Ages, very little is known of him as a historical character. A Roman
soldier and a Christian, he went through martyrdom around 303 because he did
not abjure his faith. The name Georgius means farmer, and perhaps for this
reason the catholic commemoration was fixed on the 23rd of April, in full Spring;
this would also partly explain why popular traditions turned him into the
protector of harvest. His bond with the season and his patronage over lovers
put him also in direct relation with the Roses Fair, which, since the 15th century,
takes place in the courtyard of and all around the Palace of the Government of
Catalonia.



Contrary to the small amount of historical information available, the legend
around Saint George is extended and well rooted. A widely spread tradition in
the Middle Ages explained that Saint George’s martyrdom had lasted seven
years, before a court consisting of seven kings. That version, which assigned a
great tenacity to the saint, as he did not abjure his faith throughout seven years
of torture, was condemned even by Rome, but it justifies the fact that the young
knight was invoked as the patron of the knights and of the Byzantine empire. In
those days, his help would be sought to fight against the ‘infidels’, and he was
chosen by Georgia, Serbia, England, Greece, Aragon and by the Catalan
countries as their saint patron. Legends and traditions also appeared
concerning his giving help to Christian armies.

 

The most popular tale, written by Jacobus de Voragine in the Golden Legend, is
the one that describes Saint George’s victory over the dragon. In an unknown
country named Silene, a dragon kept the inhabitants under the spell of terror. In
order to soothe him, they would offer him periodically a lamb or a young maiden
drawn by lot. One day, though, the king’s daughter was the chosen victim; Saint
George set her free and defeated the dragon, and the damsel, the king and the
whole population were converted to the Christian faith. Since the 13th century,
the image of Saint George mounted on a white horse, freeing the maiden and
defeating the dragon, has been the most popular of all.


Sant Jordi: Day of the book and the rose
 It is very difficult to set a date to establish the beginning of the popular Catalan
tradition consisting of offering roses on Sant Jordi’s day. It has to be a very
ancient one, since there is evidence of the celebration of the Roses Fair on the
occasion of Sant Jordi’s day since the 15th century. This very fact tries to
explain the link existing between the popular tradition and the symbolism of
courtly love represented by the rose. However, beyond, all possible theories
that might justify a tradition, the most important thing is that it has remained
alive, and that it is an unmistakable symbol of Catalonia.



In 1926 Spain established the 23rd of April as the Day of the Book because this
date coincided with that of Cervantes’ death; this fact annoyed England, which
already celebrated the very same day for being that of Shakespeare’s death.
The celebration took quickly root in Barcelona and it was expanded in
Catalonia, but the official purpose was gradually lost, as it coincided with the
saint patron’s day. While in other places the festivity survived only vaguely or
disappeared, in Catalonia it became one of the most celebrated popular events,
and, indirectly, it helped to encourage the diffusion and sale of Catalan books.
 And so, in Catalonia the 23rd of April is Sant Jordi’s day, the day of the rose and
the book: the day of the Saint Patron, of love and culture. All in all, it is a day of
civic virtue, of culture and respect among all those who live in Catalonia and,
therefore, among all the individuals and the cultures of the world.


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