Today is the feast day of Saint George, who is the patron saint both of Catalonia and its capital Barcelona. In commemoration of this, it is customary for ladies to be presented with a rose, and for their beaux to be presented with a book. All over cities and towns today, but particularly in Barcelona, there will be stalls selling roses and books, and the Senyera, as Catalonia’s flag is known, will be displayed everywhere.
Yet even when it is not St. George’s Day, his legend is very much a part of the fabric of life throughout Catalonia, and particularly in its capital city. The tale of St. George fighting the dragon is truly woven into the cultural consciousness of the place. Below follow just a few of the examples one might stumble across when visiting Barcelona.
The building which probably features the most visual references to Saint George is the Palau de la Generalitat, the ancient headquarters of Catalonia’s government. The structure has been remodeled and added to repeatedly, but bureaucrats over the centuries never seem to have tired of invoking the aid of St. George in governing the Catalan people. Here we can see the Gothic-era facade of the palace, with a medieval St. George and the Dragon:
Here we see the later Renaissance facade added to the front of the building on St. James Square, site of the old forum when Barcelona was a Roman colony. Naturally enough, this is a more Renaissance version of the story:
Across the street from the Palace is Barcelona City Hall, with its Gothic interior and Neoclassical additions. We can see Barcelona’s city flag on the right, which features both the four bars of the Catalan flag and the cross of St. George:
Modern buildings too, reference Barcelona’s patron saint. Built for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games, the city’s largest indoor sports venue, known as the Palau Sant Jordi, is a futuristic structure dedicated to the city’s patron:
Nearby stands an equestrian monument to Saint George by the great Catalan sculptor Josep Llimona, which is particularly beautiful at sunset; Saint George is portrayed very realistically leaning over the side of his horse to see whether he has in fact finished off the Dragon:
Sometimes one sees that the dragon has popped up by himself, as Saint George has not found him yet. For example in the 19th century he appeared in a Chinoiserie style, holding up a street light on the Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous street:
The Sagrada Familia, of course, was the great masterwork of Antoni Gaudí, which is still under construction. Being a good Catalan, Gaudí was himself particularly fascinated by the story of St. George in the Dragon. The largest example of this is his Casa Batlló, which is an architectural interpretation of the story. We see the hump of the dragon’s back pierced by the cross-tipped lance of St. George.; the skulls of the Dragon’s victims used for balconies; and the Dragon’s scaly, flashing skin is used for the facade:
Gaudí made a more literal reference to the story in the gates he designed at the Pabelló Güell, the entrance to the estate of his great patron Count Eusebi Güell, in the far north end of the city. Here a truly terrifying dragon curls around a swooping gate which is covered in plaques of St. George’s Day roses:
No doubt my readers familiar with Barcelona can recall other places where St. George and the Dragon factor into the cultural and visual life of the Catalan capital. I did not even attempt to show, for example, the number of commercial establishments that reference the pair, or the structures referencing them in the Ciutadella Park, the ironwork on the old Royal Palace, etc. Suffice to say, it is a story which has continued to captivate the creative imagination of the Catalan people.