“Cry ’God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”The Catalans celebrate their patron with gifts and romance
As you can see from Joe Hogan’s excellent article on the origins of Saint George on pages 24 and 25, the religious figure famous for saving princesses from dragons is revered all over the world. For me personally, two incarnations of Saint George have particular significance, his status as the patron saint of England – my birthplace – and of Catalonia – where I live.
While the broad outlines of the figure and his story are present in both cultures – the knight, the dragon, the princess, the crusader-like red cross – there are a number of key differences in the ways that the two countries celebrate their national patron saint. So, my question here is: who is best, Jordi or George?
When I think of Saint George, one of the first things that springs to mind is the speech that Shakespeare puts in the mouth of the medieval warrior king, Henry V. In the play of the same name, the king rallies his troops, urging them to attack the French, crying out to them: “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge / Cry ’God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”
This traditional view of Saint George portrays the dragonslayer as a martial figure and a symbol of national pride. In fact, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in the patron saint’s feast day, with flags featuring the red cross on a white background proliferating on buildings and vehicles, which perhaps ties in with the Brexit referendum and the decision to leave the European Union. Meanwhile, Saint George’s day has always had an institutional feel to it, with official church services in cathedrals blasting out renditions of the patriotic anthem, Jerusalem, or processions by the UK scout movement.
In Catalonia, by contrast, and perhaps ironically given the ambitions of many for it to become an independent state, Sant Jordi has not been turned into a nationalist symbol. The Catalans celebrate their patron in a relaxed and festive manner, his feast day is characterised by gift-giving, social interaction and romance. You might criticise Sant Jordi’s Day for being too commercial, or even over-crowded, but it is unlikely to offend anyone for being overtly nationalist or reactionary, despite the close link the Catalans have with their patron.
There are plenty of reasons why I might prefer my native land and its culture over that of my adopted one, but there are reasons why I choose to live here rather than there. How each country celebrates April 23 is not one of them, but the spirit behind each of the feast days speaks volumes, and makes me think I am better off with the happy, laid-back Sant Jordi rather than the stern and jingoistic Saint George.