Are you familiar with the legend of Santa Eulàlia?

Some accounts say that Barcelona’s primordial patron saint was born far from the city, in the town of Sarrià, while others place her birth in Barcino in the year 290. The famous folklorist Joan Amades included various versions in his work 'Costumari català'. We’ve put together a series of curious aspects about the legend and vestiges in the city relating to the martyrdoms suffered by a 13-year-old girl in Barcelona.

12/02/2024 09:28 h

Ajuntament de Barcelona

The young Eulàlia was the daughter of a well-to-do Christian family. She grew up in the time of the Emperor Diocletian, at a time when the Christian faith was being persecuted by the Roman Empire. Seeing that they were a target, her parents wanted to protect their daughter, but Eulàlia rejected any sort of imposition or oppression.

At the age of 13, she went before the Governor of Dacia to tell him to stop the persecution of Christians. The furious Dacia had her locked up in the prison in the street by the two arches known as the Volta de Santa Eulàlia and the Volta del Remei.

The thirteen martyrdoms of Santa Eulàlia

In prison, seeing that the young girl was unwilling to abandon the Christian faith, they condemned her to suffer 13 martyrdoms, one for each year of her age. They began by flogging her with hooks to rip into the girl’s flesh. Horrible!

None of the martyrdoms bothered her.

Seeing that she would not break, they stood her in a pan of burning embers, thinking this would make her renounce her religion, and when it didn’t, they even set fire to her breast. Shocking! Angry at how ineffective their plan was, those in charge ordered the torturers to rub her sores and wounds with pumice stones to then pour boiling oil on her and finish the job by dipping them in melted lead. Absurd!

Furious at her resistance, they put her in a barrel full of glass and knives and rolled her down the slope now known as the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia. How many times? 13!

Wounded, they put her in a coop full of fleas. Legend has it that this is why flea larvae are fatter at this time of the year than all other months. Ah, and they don’t half bite! Because they say they’re the fleas of Santa Eulàlia.

More martyrdoms. They made her walk around the city streets completely naked, until the sky darkened and snow started to fall to cover the young girl’s nudity, dressing her in pure white snowflakes. In memory of this martyrdom, it never snows on the day of Santa Eulàlia.

They say this last martyrdom, which didn’t break her and didn’t even make her blink, happened in Plaça de Pedró. Today there is a monument in the square, in honour of the patron saint.

Finally, they crucified her. Everything indicates that they did this in Pla de la Boqueria, at one of the city’s gates, which would later bear her name. On the corner of this space and Carrer de la Boqueria there’s a stone at the same height as a balcony, in memory of what happened there.

Legend has it that the moment her eyes closed, her soul left her body through her mouth in the form of a dove flying towards heaven. Another account says that the moment she died, a strong snowstorm fell, driving away the soldiers who were guarding her.

Some versions explain that the day after the crucifixion some Christians took her down in secret and laid her to rest in a hidden corner of the Santa Maria del Mar church. Later the city’s inhabitants decided that there could be no better place for her body than the cathedral.

During the transfer, by Carrer de la Tapineria, the bearers were unable to move her coffin as it had become much heavier than normal. The only solution was to pray, and everybody went down on their knees. Suddenly, a fallen angel pointed to one of the canons.

What had he done? The clergyman had taken a toe from Santa Eulàlia as a religious relic. They made him put it back in the coffin, which got lighter and lighter. Santa Eulàlia wanted to enter the cathedral in one piece!

You’ll find the telltale angel in Plaça de l’Àngel.

What is there at the cathedral in memory of Santa Eulàlia?

Besides panels and the crypt with her remains, the cloister has a pond with a jet of water where a gaggle of geese live. There are 13 geese, in memory of the martyrdoms suffered by the young Eulàlia.

And this is how the legend of Santa Eulàlia goes, our cherished patron since the 9th century. Since 1868 she has shared her patronage with Mercè, but we don’t know if they get along with each other.

Curiously, it rains in the city every 24 September…



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