Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

A book and a rose for St.Jordi’s Day

Sant Jordi i el drac
Today is La Diada de Sant Jordi, a very special day in Catalonia. Cities and towns are filled with stands of roses and bookstalls, since tradition dictates that on this day men give their sweetheart a red rose, and ladies give their loved one a book -”a rose for love and a book forever”. Although it is not a public holiday, crowds of people take over the streets, which smell of roses and are dyed in red and yellow, the colors of the Catalan flag. It is a very picturesque sight.

The origins of this tradition date back to a medieval legend in which St. Jordi (St. George) slew a dragon to save a princess. From the dragon’s blood grew a rose bush. St. Jordi pulled out the prettiest rose and gave it to the princess. As an acknowledgement of his heroic deed, Catalonia commemorates Sant Jordi’s Day each April 23.

“Once upon a time a fearsome dragon was terrifying the inhabitants of a small town in Catalonia called Montblanc. It was wrecking havoc among the town’s populace and devouring the animals grazing in the fields. So, to calm the dragon down, the inhabitants decided they would sacrifice one person each day, chosen by lot, offering them as a sign of good will. One day, it was the turn of the king’s daughter to be sacrificed. But, just when the dragon was about to gobble her up, a handsome knight appeared and confronted the beast.  It was St George, known as Sant Jordi to the Catalans. He drove his lance into the dragon, out of whose blood a bush of red roses sprang up.
His was a bold and selfless gesture that changed the town’s course of history and gave birth to our legend.” (Source: The Tradition)

The episode of St. George and the Dragon is found in several legends around the world.  It achieved mass circulation when it was printed in a book called The Golden Legend, a collection of hagiographies written by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, in 1470, and translated from French to English in 1483. The Life of Saint George can be read here.

Roses have been associated with this St.Jordi’s legend since the Middle Ages, but the giving of books is a more recent tradition. St. Jordi’s Day coincides with the festivity of the Book Day established in Spain in the 1920s to commemorate the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, who had died on April 22, 1616 and was buried on April 23. This tradition inspired the UNESCO to declare the World Book Day on April 23 as a symbolic date for world literature, since April 23 was also the date of Shakespeare’s death.

It is worth noting that it is not strictly correct to assume that Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same day. In the 17th century, England still used the Julian Calendar, so, whilst Shakespeare died on April 23 by the Julian calendar, according to the Gregorian calendar, he died eleven days after Cervantes, on May 3, 1616.

Approximately 80 nations celebrate World Book Day on this date.

Feliç Diada de St. Jordi!  Happy St. Jordi’s day! Happy World Book Day!

(Illustration by Alba Marina Rivera, reproduced with permission from the author)

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