Rose of Sant Jordi

Imatge destacada

The Catalan version of the legend of Sant Jordi, Saint George, tells that after a fierce battle between the knight and the dragon, the beast fell, pierced by sharp iron. From the drops of blood that reached the earth a rosebush grew that blooms profusely each April. This is the traditional explanation for the custom of giving roses on St George's Day, 23rd April.

Legends and imagined stories to one side, we know that the tradition of giving roses to loved ones goes back a long way. Sant Jordi's link to the world of chivalry and courtly love could have been the basis of this tradition. We also know that in 15th century Barcelona, they held the Fira dels Enamorats, the lovers' fair, and rose vendors set up around the Palau de la Generalitat. At the same time, it was customary to give a rose to the women who attended Mass in the chapel of Sant Jordi in the Palau. Finally, there are those who say the custom of giving roses has Roman roots, particularly stemming from celebrations in honour of the goddess Flora, which were later Christianised.

In the symbolic universe, the red rose, the colour of passion, is the flower of feminine love, while the carnation is reserved for masculine love. Decorating the rose for Sant Jordi's Day is also quite curious, and mixes elements from different sources. On one hand, there is feminine love represented by the velvety and fragile, red rose petals, sometimes accompanied by an ear of corn signifying  fertility, and calling up an ancient meaning of cereal seeds. But there is another, less romantic interpretation related to the arrival of good weather . On the other hand, the flower of Sant Jordi is usually decorated with things that evoke the state of being Catalan, like ribbons or bows depicting the Senyera, the Catalan flag, and which remind us of the nationalistic side to the day.

These days, flower shops, street corners, avenues, roads, and squares all become places to sell and distribute the thousands and thousands of roses that are given away to loved ones, as tradition dictates, but also to friends, mothers, fathers, colleagues, and clients. Because this flower has exceeded its original meaning of love, and has also become a gift of friendship and courtesy. As you can see, the rose has become the star of the festival, so much so that domestic production is no longer enough to satisfy the demand, and flowers must be imported from far off parts of the world.