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Dragons and roses: celebrate a Spanish fiesta, English-style
Saints on horseback bring out the bookworm in us...
Fly the flags and bring on the beer. This week, our English readers are suddenly going to become nostalgic for their mother country and celebrate their own fiestas patronales in style.
Almost every English bar on the coast will be adorned with white banners bearing red crosses and probably advertising a happy hour, too. Despite the fact that few people in England bother to mark Saint George’s Day and most haven’t a clue as to what date it falls on, for some reason, finding themselves living abroad suddenly gives the English a patriotic pull on their heartstrings and makes them reclaim their lost heritage on April 23, the one day of the year when they wear their nationality like a medal.
Many of our other English readers will be bowing their heads in shame at the drunken antics and pub-fights that take place this week in the name of national pride. We live in Spain, now, they will say. It is our duty and a privilege to integrate with the natives of our adoptive country and break out of the ghetto.
What they may not realise is that those living it up in their nearest British pub on Monday are following a global tradition, and a very Spanish one, too. In Cataluña, thousands more will be partying on the streets that day, and not only the English. Saint George is also the patron saint of the north-eastern coastal region of Spain, where he is known by the catalán translation of Sant Jordi.
Like the English, the catalanes pay tribute to Saint George/Sant Jordi on their flag. The cross of Sant Jordi is the emblem of the regional government, the Generalitat de Cataluña, and it appears on the regional coat of arms. Two of these crosses are emblazoned across the autonomous community’s flag.
How many Saint Georges were there?
English people are familiar with the legend of Saint George, like a knight in shining armour, rescuing the beautiful princess from the clutches of a dragon in answer to her father’s heartfelt pleas. The tale recounts that the dragon had built a nest in the river that supplied the town’s irrigation, and for the inhabitants to collect water they had to sacrifice a human each time to the dragon, meaning that it became something of a popularity contest with a neighbour being voted by their so-called friends to face their destiny each day.
Other texts link the Saint George story to the Ancient Greek drama in which Perseus rescues the Ethiopian princess Andrómeda from the clutches of the gorgon, Medusa, and later marries her. Some versions of the tale situated the action in Libya, others in Egypt, some in Ancient Greece.
Dragons do not seem to enter into Cataluña’s version of the Saint George/Sant Jordi legend. Whilst the English depict him as riding a grey horse whilst fighting the fiery creature, the saint’s mount has a mere cameo role in the story. In Cataluña, however, Sant Jordi is considered to be the patron saint of horses, and of nobility, thanks to the help he gave King Pedro I of Aragón in a battle against the Islamic settlers in 1094. It was this monarch who bestowed upon Sant Jordi his equine-related sainthood.
Confusingly, though, there are documents dating back to the 8th century mentioning homage acts to Sant Jordi, a priest who fled to Italy, although it is not clear if he was the same saint and the dates have somehow become mixed up – unless he lived for over three hundred years.
Even further back, legend tells of a San Jorge who was born at the end of the 3rd century to Capadocia, a Roman army official, and Policromía, who returned with her son to her native city of Lydda (now Lod) in Israel when she was widowed.
This tale goes on to explain how San Jorge followed in his father’s footsteps and achieved a high ranking in the forces. This came to an abrupt end when he was tortured and decapitated on April 23,
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