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Feast Day of Sant Jordi: a book and a rose on Les Rambles

The Feast Day of Sant Jordi (St George), patron saint of Catalonia, is celebrated in Barcelona on 23 April. The whole city, and especially Les Rambles overflows with stalls selling books and roses in a springtime, festival atmosphere.

Sant Jordi is held on the same date as World Book Day, set by UNESCO in 1995, which is also the same day that the deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare are commemorated. Coincidence or not, one thing is certain: it’s a date to honour literature and in Barcelona it’s celebrated in a very special way.

Records tracing back to the fifteenth century describe a rose fair being held for Sant Jordi that was traditionally visited by engaged couples. To find out when books became a customary part of the festival you need to fast-forward to the 1929 International Exposition when booksellers decided to set up stalls to promote their new releases.

Ever since then, on 23 April you’ll see people walking about the streets of Barcelona with books and roses in a joyful, festive atmosphere, even though it’s not an official holiday. Originally men would give their beloved a rose and women would present the man they love with a book, but this has evolved over time and now anyone can receive a book or a rose.

Books and roses on Les Rambles

Every 23 April all the season’s latest literary releases can be found on stalls along Les Rambles and Passeig de Gràcia to celebrate the Feast Day of Sant Jordi. You’ll also enjoy the chance to have a book signed by your favourite author, or even chat to him or her, because writers often attend the festival.

Red roses are a symbol of love on Sant Jordi in Barcelona.  Florists’ stalls line the streets on a day when 40% of yearly rose sales are made. They are typically sold with a ribbon in the colours of the Catalan flag together with an ear of wheat, a symbol of fertility.

Sant Jordi and the dragon

Sant Jordi was a knight under the orders of Emperor Diocletian who refused to persecute Christians; he was martyred and beheaded for his beliefs. He has been the patron saint of Catalonia since 1456. However, the most famous story related to Sant Jordi describes him as a hero who saved a princess from the clutches of a dragon. As legend goes, the events took place in a village in Tarragona called Montblanc. A terrifying dragon was menacing the villagers who were at a loss as how to defeat it; they soon ran out of livestock and had turned to handing over one person each day to feed the monster. They held a draw to decide who would be next and one day it was the turn of the king’s daughter. Just as the young princess was walking towards the dragon’s cave, Sant Jordi appeared in the nick of time to rescue her. He stabbed the dragon with his sword and a red rose bush sprouted from the ground on the very spot where the creature’s blood stained the ground. Young Sant Jordi picked a rose and handed it to the princess. This legend is not only told in Catalonia but also in other countries such as England, Greece and Portugal.

You can spot different scenes from the legend depicted on the façade of Casa Batlló (link interno) on Passeig de Gràcia and this famous Gaudí building is festooned with flowers on 23 April. The most well-known nod to the tale can easily be identified on the roof terrace where the dragon’s back appears with Sant Jordi’s long sword. However, if you look upwards from the street you’ll also spot a small balcony on the top floor in the shape of a flower, known as the “princess’s balcony”. Across the rest of the façade, the skull-like balconies and columns shaped like bones represent the monster’s victims while in the hall, the staircase finishings remind visitors of the dragon’s tail.

Events on the Feast Day of Sant Jordi

On 23 April you can seize your chance to visit the interior of Barcelona Town Hall because Sant Jordi is one of three days during the year that it opens to the public. Entry is free and you can visit the Capella del Bon Consell, the Saló de Cròniques and the Galeria Gòtica, home to the chapel of Sant Jordi. Visits are dramatised and characters such as Sant Jordi himself, the princess and fourteenth century chronicler Ramón Muntaner provide commentary during your tour.

Traditionally, the mass of Sant Jordi is held in the chapel of the Palau de la Generalitat and the blessing of the roses takes place in its patio to the sound of a carillon bell concert at the Palau.

Sant Jordi bread

The Feast Day of Sant Jordi is celebrated with its own special confection, like many other Spanish festivals. Pastry chefs in Barcelona have been making Sant Jordi bread, created by baker Eduardo Crespo, for over 30 years. Made with flour, butter and sugar, the bread also includes ingredients such as Emmental cheese, Mallorcan sobrassada sausage and walnuts. It is normally decorated with the Catalan flag in red gelatin or with the figure of a knight killing a dragon, but you only need to slice through the layers of sobrassada and cheese to spot the colours of the senyera.

In Barcelona you’ll celebrate World Book Day in a festive and romantic atmosphere thanks to Sant Jordi.

Information of interest

  • Date: 23 April
  • Location: Les Rambles and surrounding area
  • How to arrive: L3 Drassanes, Liceu or Catalunya

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