Tuesday, 23 April 2013

St. George, Cervantes and Shakespeare

April 23rd is a date associated with a dragon-slaying saint and books, not two things you would necessarily expect to go hand in hand but in the UK and Spain, particularly Catalonia, they do.
April 23rd is St. George's Day, the patron saint of England and Aragon-Catalonia to name but two regions, on what is accepted as his death-date in 303CE. George was a successful and popular Roman soldier of Greek heritage who refused to renounce his Christianity when the emperor Diocletian, who had issued an edict that all Christian soldiers should be arrested, tried to assure George's conversion through offers of land and money. When George refused he was executed by decapitation and his body received back in Greece as that of a martyr. 


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The more fantastical side to the St. George legend has him slaying a dragon, thus saving a princess from sacrifice to the beast. Where the dragon's blood was spilled a red rose bush 
grew; the giving or wearing of a red rose becoming an accepted part of the celebration of the saint. 






The 23rd is also known as the birth and death date of William Shakespeare and the reported death date of Miguel Cervantes (though this is disputed as actually being the 22nd). These literary greats were the inspiration for a forward-thinking bookseller in the 1920s in Catalonia. This bookseller promoted the idea of the gift of a rose for a woman and a book for a man on St. George's Day (Sant Jordi in Catalan). 




The tradition continues in Catalonia, particularly in Barcelona where Las Ramblas are lined with stalls during the feast's celebration. El Día del Libro is now firmly established and has inspired the UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day. UNESCO's aim is to encourage the support of those involved with books from the authors, to librarians to the end-user - the booklover!


I would strongly suggest that we can forget the somewhat patriarchal division of gift-giving and give books regardless of gender (I would definitely prefer a book to a rose, though wouldn't say no to both!) and though there shouldn't need to be an excuse to give a book to a child, April 23rd is an ideal day to gift a book to one.


In the UK, Eire, Germany and US the 23rd is known as World Book Day/Night and the giving of a selection of books is followed up with activities to encourage reading in children and adults alike. 

 Wherever you may be on April 23rd join in the celebration of the book and St. George.

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