The legend of Sant Jordi/St George is a story with close to 2,000 years of history behind it and which was significantly distorted over time. It starts with the persecution of Christians during the Roman empire and it involves the Crusaders, one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages and the folkorist Joan Amades.
There is the life of the saint, on one hand, a 3rd-century Roman soldier of Greek origin who had converted to Christianity and died a martyr for refusing to forsake his faith. Despite the fact that the controversial historicity of the figure, the facts took place in the Middle East, where his cult spread among Christians and Muslims alike. It was with the arrival of the crusades in the 12th century that their soldiers made him into their figurehead and later brought back his cult on their return to their respective European kingdoms, where it then spread. This explains why St George is the patron saint not just of Catalonia but also of England, Aragon and Portugal.
Still, the legend including the episodes of St George, the dragon and the princess did not appear until the 13th century, in the ‘Golden Legend’. This book, which was written by the Dominican friar, Jacobus de Varagine, was a veritable medieval best-seller. It is a hagiography that tells the lives of more than a century saint, including St George. It was a hugely influential and was spread throughout Europe, a clear example of an ‘embellished’ work: the successive versions and translations that were made distorted the lives of the saints and added new stories, taking the original number of 180 up to 400.
The impetus behind the ‘Golden Legend’ continued throughout the Middle Ages, providing a source of inspiration for numerous writers and artists. It also gave rise to a good many war legends where St George miraculously appears at the side of Christian warriors at the decisive point in the battle. Such is the case with the fall of the city of Alcoi and many versions where St George intervenes on behalf of the Catalan counts and kings of the Crown of Aragon. It was during this period, in 1456, that Sant Jordi / St George was declared the official patron saint of Catalonia.
The other great academic who documented the legend of St George was the folkorist Joan Amades, in his Costumari català. The 19th-century version of the legend has a series of features that are unique in the Catalan version, the result of a centuries-long process of adaptation. The first is the setting: our story does not occur in Silene (Libya), where Jacobus de Varagine had set it, but rather in Montblanc – or in Rocallaura in several other versions. And the second feature is that our oral tradition explains how, once the dragon was killed, its drops of blood that hit the ground became a rose bush which produced an enormous blossom and whose loveliest rose the knight plucked, to give to the princess before he disappeared.
Sant Jordi in New York
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