01 May 2011

San Jorge

 St George, that much-travelled military martyr and dragon-slayer, is the patron saint of Alcalá de los Gazules.  So while those people for whom it is important to demonstrate their Englishness are waving red-and-white flags at football matches and campaigning for a national holiday on 23 April, the alcalainos are celebrating a three-day festival in honour of their patrón.

 As well as Alcalá and England, George has patronages in Greece, Portugal, Malta, Georgia, Ethiopia, Moscow and many other places.  The business with the dragon comes from a legend brought back by the Crusaders.  Once upon a time (probably around the 3rd century AD in a place called Silene in Libya) a malevolent dragon was demanding food from the locals.  When they ran out of sheep the dragon ordered children instead, chosen by lottery.  One day the lot fell to the King´s daughter.  George just happened to be riding by and heard her sobs.  He charged the approaching dragon on horseback and stabbed it with his lance, then threw the princess's girdle round its neck and led it meekly back to town.  He promised to slay it if all the townspeople converted to Christianity, which they duly did.

George's fame rapidly spread throughout the Roman Empire and he was made a saint in 494 AD.  He became a popular role model for the Christian Crusaders fighting the Muslim "infidels".  His flag was adopted by the English in 1190, to protect their crusader ships in the Mediterranean (it guaranteed them the protection of the Genoese fleet).

Interestingly, George is also included in early Islamic texts. One Muslim legend recounts that George lived among a group of believers who had been in direct contact with the last disciples of Jesus. George is said to have been a rich merchant who opposed the erection of a statue of Apollo, a pagan deity, by the king of Mosul. After confronting the king, he was tortured many times but to no effect and was imprisoned, later being aided by angels.  To this day, Arabs refer to him as El Khudder - the Green - and believe he can cure madness.

San Jorge pops up all over the town of Alcalá.  The splendid old church in the Plaza Alta is called the Parroquia de San Jorge, and a mounted statue of said saint shares pride of place with Jesus and Mary.  The Plaza Alta is also known as the Plaza San Jorge.  Then there is the hotel, and (until its recent closure) the curiously named St George´s Irish Bar, and of course he appears on the town´s coat of arms.

San Jorge in the church of the same name
The Fiesta de San Jorge involves a religious blessing and an outing to carry the statue round the Plaza Alta (weather permitting) followed by three days of non-stop partying.   The square is covered with sand.   Twice a day a young bull or cow is released into the square and taunted by the local testosterone squad, who chase it/are chased by it down the hill, along the Calle Real and into the Alameda.  There is live music, plenty of drinking, and rumour has it that one of the unfortunate animals forms the contents of a large beef stew or caldereta which is served up to the crowds.

Fiesta de San Jorge 2008
Fiesta de San Jorge 2011

1 comment:

Tumbit.com said...

Any significance with the choice of date, or was that done by lottery aswell ?