Today is Saint George’s Day, celebrating the fictitious patron saint of England. It is also Saint Jordi (that’s George in Catalan), when tradition demands that a man receives a book and the woman, a rose. There is a connection but the whole thing starts in the year 303 in Capadocia, a somewhat elusive place (depends on who’s telling the story) located in Turkey, where a dragon kept attacking the inhabitants of the kingdom there. An enormously frightened populace sacrificed two lambs to the dragon every day in the hope of stemming its hunger and it would stop its attacks. But lambs soon became scarce, and one of the lambs was replaced by the sacrifice of a person.
The family of the chosen person would receive all sorts of rich rewards and compensation. From here spring two versions of the legend.
In one version, it is said that the populace became irritated because no member of the royal family was ever sacrificed, and expected the princess to be next. In another, the princess was chosen by a draw.
Whichever version you choose, you will find that on the way to the place to be sacrificed, the princess met one George, or Jordi. On his white horse, the man who would later become a ‘saint’ (see a list of Spanish saints) rescued the princess, killing the dragon with his sword. The blood that gushed from the slain dragon became a red rose, which the gallant Jordi, or George, handed to the princess – get it?
The king then offered George all the riches imaginable, but Jordi preferred them to be handed out to the populace. Nice man, George, or Jordi.
The books come in because they are a reminder of that two of the world’s greatest authors, Shakespeare and Cervantes, died on this same day in 1616. Some clever Catalan bookseller put the two together at some point, and the tradition was born – so many ‘traditions’ are born from commercial enterprise.
Saint George in Spain
Saint George is associated with several areas of Spain. He is the patron saint of the former Crown of Aragon, since King Peter I of Aragon won the Battle of Alcoraz with his patronage. The saint is also patron of several cities. In most cases, the reason for those cities’ relation with the Saint as their holy Patron is linked to historic events which happened during the “Reconquista.”
The Saint’s feast is also celebrated in many towns outside the former Crown of Aragon in Spain. Saint George has been the patron saint of Cáceres, since 1229 A.D. Celebration of Saint George’s Day in Cáceres is strongly centered in the world of legends. Celebrations include a parade featuring re-enactments of Moorish and Christian soldiers, but the core of the commemoration focuses mainly on the legend of Saint George slaying a dragon to save a princess (see above).
During the celebration, men give roses to women and women give books to men. The rose makes reference to the roses that came out of the blood of the slayed dragon by Saint George (Sant Jordi) and the book makes a reference to the old stories once told, symbolising the culture of the people.
(First published on CampoPulse)