Well before the Christian era the whole of the Iberian peninsular, comprising the territory which is today administered by Spain and Portugal, was fully integrated within the Roman Empire. For the first seven centuries of the first millenium AD, the overall pattern of political and religious development of the area paralleled in many respects that of the Italian peninsula. For the first half of this period it was administered from Rome by the pagan Emperors, under whom the Christian religion was generally tolerated, but was periodically subjected to brutal persecutions, culminating in that which followed the ferocious edicts of Diocletian, under which St. George is thought to have perished. 
Thirty years later, in 330 AD, Constantine the Great established his administration of the Empire in Constantinople, and shortly thereafter Christianity became the official state religion.

The integration of Iberia into the political and religious background of the Roman Empire is evidenced by the fact that many leading figures in imperial history were Spaniards. The famous Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian were both Spanish born, as also was Theodosius I (379-395), who made Christianity the only tolerated religion in the empire. And it is significant in this context that the Nicene Council, held at Nicaea in Asia Minor in 325, was directed by Oslo, bishop of Cordoba.

At the beginning of the 5th century there came the great invasions of the Western part of the Roman Empire by Germanic tribes. In 401 the Visigoths, under Alaric, crossed the Alps and descended on Italy: in 410 they sacked Rome. At about the same time, other tribes, including Suebi, Alans and Vandals, crossed the Pyrenees. The Suebi and some of the Vandals settled in Galicia, while the Silingi Vandals settled in Baetica, which they renamed Vandalusia, later to be called Andalusia. The Alans settled in Lusitania, the area roughly corresponding to modern Portugal, while Tarraconensis, a substantial area in the north west, centred upon Tarragona, was settled by the Visigoths. There were many conquests and re-conquests as the different Germanic tribes fought for control, but eventually the Visigoths prevailed over most of the peninsula, though the Suebi still held on to Galicia in the northwest, and to Lusitania in the west.

The politically dominant Visigoths, who were Arian Christians numbering around a quarter million people, were vastly outnumbered by the seven million Hispano-Romans in the peninsula, who followed a Latin culture, and acknowledged the teachings and authority of the Church of Rome. These two disparate elements of the population lived together in relative but uneasy harmony for the best part of two centuries, but the cultural and religious tensions were not finally resolved until the end of the 6th century, when the Visigothic ruler Recared converted to the Latin Catholic faith which was professed by the vast majority of his people. By the year 630 Catholic Visigoths ruled over the whole of Spain, and thereafter Germanic law and culture was progressively subordinated to Hispano-Roman law.

This new-found unity of Christian Spain was however short-lived. In 711, following family quarrels within the Visigothic court, dissident relatives of the Visigothic king Roderick appealed for military help to the Muslim Governor of Tangier. Their new-found ally rapidly defeated the king and his Visigothic army, but then unexpectedly seized the opportunity to advance through the leaderless realm that lay helpless before him. Within a few months virtually the whole of the peninsula had been overrun by the victorious Moors. Five and a half centuries were to pass before the Christian population of Iberia succeeded in expelling the Moorish invaders, through the long drawn out battles and campaigns of the Reconquista.

Resistance to the Moors began sporadically in the north of the Iberian peninsula, in the mountains of Asturias and Galicia, and in the Basque country of the Western Pyrenees. Later, the Franks moved across the Eastern Pyrenees into northeastern Spain, and Charlemagne succeeded in seizing Barcelona, the capital city of Catalonia, in 801. Catalonia became known as ‘The Spanish Marches’, and was linked politically and culturally at first to the Carolingian Empire, and later to the Kingdom of France. Still later it became an independent kingdom, as also did the Asturias, Galicia, and various other areas including Navarre, Aragon and Castile.

The 11th century was particularly turbulent, marked by periodic internecine warfare between the separate emerging Christian Kingdoms, and by incessant warfare between the Christians and the Moors. There were many major battles between Christians and Moors in the northern part of the peninsula at this time, but none was more critical than the famous battle of Alcoraz, which was fought in 1096 for the liberation of Huesca, a city which until 1118 served as the capital city of Aragon, and which is today the capital city of Huesca province. This battle marked the triumphant end of one of the Spanish Crusades against the Moors which had been sponsored by Pope Urban II, in the decade before his famous appeal at Clermont-Ferrand launched the First Crusade to the Holy Land.

The Christian army was led by Peter I of Aragon, and the battle took place at the small village of Alcoraz, just outside the city of Huesca. Tradition tells how the Spanish forces which were trying to storm Huesca had been unable to breach the walls held by the Moorish defenders. Then all at once, according to one Aragonese chronicler:

” They saw the enemy lances cut in two by sword strokes from an unknown warrior who suddenly appeared in their midst. Spurred on by this help, they resumed the battle with renewed vigour, and gained the day. Having fought their way to the Plaza San Jaime they turned to pay homage to the knight who had come to their aid. At this, he threw up his sword, which was changed into a red cross, and he disappeared from view. So they understood that it was St. George who had fought with them and given them victory.” [1]

This critical battle for the liberation of Huesca and of Aragon, in which victory was achieved with the aid of 
St. George, ante-dated by only two years the critical battle outside Antioch, where with the help of St. George the armies of the First Crusade to the Holy Land defeated the Saracen armies under Kerbogha, a victory which led to the deliverance of Jerusalem (see Chapter 4). It is therefore not surprising that stories grew up connecting the miraculous interventions of St. George at these two critical events. Milla I Reig[2] cites a 14th century manuscript written originally in mediaeval Catalan, which links the two in a most ingenious manner:

” The Catalan and Aragonese forces of Pedro I, besieging the city of Huesca occupied by the Saracens, found it was impossible to dent the resistance of the besieged forces, despite the courage and heroism of those making up the Christian army. When, during the battle, St. George appeared, accompanied by another knight as valiant as he, the Catalans and Aragonese, encouraged by the example of these two, threw themselves against the walls and routed the enemy. As soon as the battle was ended, St. George disappeared. The unknown knight who had fought at his side, could neither understand what the Catalans said when they showered their praises, nor could he make them understand when he spoke in his own strange language. Eventually he explained in Latin that he did not know in which country he found himself, nor how he came to be there. He told them that a valiant knight, all dressed in white with a shield glowing like the sun and with a red cross, who was fighting at his side in the forces of the German Emperor at Antioch had said to him ‘Follow me’. And so he found himself transported to an unknown people in the country of Aragon. King Pedro sent messengers to the German Emperor who confirmed the facts so related, reporting that all stayed secure in the presence of St. George and the German knight at the battle of Antioch, just as they did at the very same hour at the battle of Alcoraz in Huesca. 

Milla I Reig also gives another Catalan version of this event which he terms ‘more folkloric’, according to which the knight who fought in the forces of the German Emperor was a Catalan. The story tells how in full battle outside Antioch, while engaged in cutting off the heads of the Saracens with his sword, he thought of his remote country, Catalunya, worried about what might be happening there while he battled in a strange country, whereas he might better be defending his own fatherland. The story went on as follows:

He invoked St. George, a natural thing for a Catalan knight, begging protection for himself and for Catalunya, while lifting his sword above the head of a Saracen. When he started to lower it, he found that it was over the head of a Saracen in the battle of Alcoraz, because the saint had translated him from the one country to the other in the twinkling of an eye. 

Quite apart from their elements of fantasy, these stories contain obvious historical errors. Henry IV, King of Germany, took no active part in the First Crusade, and the Battle of Antioch took place two whole years after the battle of Alcoraz which liberated Huesca. The elements of fantasy and error in these folk stories do not however invalidate the historical fact of the liberation of Huesca, and there are many other historical facts which demonstrate the strong local devotion to St. George which arose soon after that battle.

A shrine to the Saint was erected on the battle site. It was restored in 1554, and this mediaeval ‘Sanctuaria de San Jorge’ is still a place of pilgrimage for his followers. The present arms of the Province of Huesca contain the equestrian figure of the Saint, while the arms of the City of Huesca, which afterwards became a bishopric and for a time the capital city of Aragon, displayed the cross of St. George, showing within its four quarters the heads of four Moorish Princes who were slain in the battle of Alcoraz. This same design is today to be found in the coat of arms of Sardinia, which was for a time held by the House of Aragon, while the arms of the city of Cagliari carries the cross of St. George in two of its quarters.

Chapt 6 Plate 1 Huesca stamp
Postage stamp of 1963 bearing the arms of Huesca


St. George was soon declared official Patron Saint of Aragon, and later of Catalonia and Valencia, when these two kingdoms were liberated and later merged in the greater Kingdom of Aragon. The arms of Barcelona, capital city of Catalonia, bear the cross of St. George in two of its quarters, and St. George’s Day is still one of the great feasts of the year throughout Catalonia. The cross of St. George is also carried in the arms of Aimeria in southern Spain, one of the last provinces to be freed from Moslem rule.

Chapt 6 Pl 1 Almeria stamp
Postage stamp of 1962 depicting the arms of Algeria


The Holy Wars continued for several more centuries until the Moors were finally expelled from the Iberian peninsula, and there are repeated legends of the appearance of St. George to assist the Christian armies in their battles against the infidels. According to the ‘Chronicles of King James’, he was said to have appeared in 1237 at the battle of Santa Maria de Puig, in Valencia, when the forces of James I were surrounded by the Moors, who flung themselves into battle like an irresistible avalanche, with the intention of annihilating them. With the help of St. George, the Christians gained victory in a courageous counter-attack. The Chronicles also describe the appearance of the Saint during the liberation of Mallorca. The astonished Saracens retreated on seeing, in the van of the forces of King James, a knight all dressed in white, with white armour, an event firmly identified by the chronicler as an intervention of St.George.

A much later occasion for the miraculous intervention of the Saint, in the struggle against the Moors, was the battle for liberation of the city of Alcoy in southern Valencia, in 1476. This is still commemorated on St. George’s Day, 23rd April, in an annual Feast in which thousands of participants, colorfully dressed as Moors and Christians, re-enact the battle, and parade through the streets of Alcoy and other Valencian cities. Needless to say, the Christians always win. The 500th anniversary of this event was commemorated in 1976 by issue of a special Spanish postage stamp, displaying the equestrian figure of the Saint in the sky above the battle scene.

Chapt 6 Plate 1 Battle of Alcoy
Postage stamp issued in 1976 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the battle of Alcoy

Another popular Catalan folk story, a Georgian variation of the biblical theme of the ‘loaves and fishes’, recounts how the armies of King James I ran short of supplies while preparing to advance on the Moors in Valencia, after the liberation of Mallorca. Distressed by the hunger and thirst of his soldiers, the King was at his wit’s end, when suddenly St. George appeared to him in his palace in Barcelona, and gave him a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and a joint of veal. He told the King that this would suffice to feed his whole army, throughout the country. And so it turned out, since the bottle refilled as soon as it was drunk, and the loaf and the veal were never diminished by the eating of the famished soldiers.[3]

Yet another folkloric example of the appearance of
 St. George, in the course of the Spanish wars against the Moors, is a legendary variant of the theme of the ‘coffee-boy’ found in many icons of the Saint in the Eastern Church. It has obviously been imported from Byzantine sources. The story goes that the son of a noble Catalan knight, who had fallen captive to the Moors in a battle lost by his father’s forces, was forced to serve as a slave to the Saracen king. It seems that before his captivity this youth had regularly participated in a feast on April 23rd of each year, arranged in honour of St. George, in gratitude for the aid which the Saint had given to the Catalan forces in the wars of liberation against the Moors. April 23rd came round while he was still in captivity, and during his duties on that day, while serving drink and food to the Moorish king in his harem, he remembered the feast of St. George which at that moment his father must be celebrating at his palace. He forthwith broke down into a flood of tears.

 When the Moorish king realised the cause for the young man’s tears, he was infuriated, and gave orders for his head to be cut off. Imagine the surprise of everyone in the harem when they saw St. George appear, mounted on a white horse, resplendent as the sun, stretching out his arms to seize the young captive from his tormentors, and carrying him through the air to disappear from the sight of the astonished Saracens. And no less was the surprise and joy of the father and companions and friends of the liberated young man, at the appearance on horseback of St. George and the young man, in this un-hoped for turn of events [4]

Surprisingly, these miraculous appearances of St. George in Spanish history are seldom portrayed in the local iconography of Spanish churches and shrines. There is however one spectacular portrayal whose quality far outweighs the paucity of examples. This is the world-famous Valencian altarpiece attributed to Marzal de Sas, which sadly is no longer to be seen in its proper home, since it is on display a thousand miles away in the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London.

Although the absence of this great work of art from its place of origin is a cause of bitterness in some Valencian circles, let it be said at once that this is not another case of ‘Elgin Marbles’. The Valencia altar-piece was very properly acquired on the open art-market in the 19th century, by Mr. J. C. Robinson, the Art Referee of the Science and Art Department, one and a half centuries after it had apparently been removed and sold from the chapel in Valencia for which it was commissioned. In October 1864 Robinson wrote to Henry Cole, director of the South Kensington Museum: “A work of art of unusual interest has just been brought to Paris and I beg to report on it herewith in order that their Lordships may be informed at the earliest moment” He described it as “A Spanish retable or altar-piece of great size”, and subsequently he reported that it had been brought from a destroyed church in Valencia. Robinson eventually bought the retable for £840, and it reached London before the end of 1864.

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Valencia Altar Piece Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This magnificent altar-piece is attributed by Kaufmann[5] 
to an artist of German origin, Marzal de Sas, who was domiciled in Valencia around the end of the 14th century. His name probably implies that his birthplace was Saxony, though like most artists in mediaeval Europe, he would have acquired artistic traits related to his adopted city and country, just as did El Greco when he moved to Toledo from his native Crete.

There are three large central panels to the retable, surrounded by sixteen smaller panels depicting legendary scenes from the passion and miracles of St. George. The uppermost
 of the large central panels is a scene of Our Lady nursing the infant Jesus, surrounded by angels. The bottom large panel 
most beautiful icon of St. George, a serene young knight on white horse, with three elegant long feathers rising from a brooch attached to his familiar shock of curly hair, gazing compassionately at the dragon which grasps his downward plunging lance.


Valencia Altar Piece
St George on the Valencia altar piece Victoria and Albert Museum
Valencia Altar piece 3
The Battle of Sta Maria de Puig in 1237. Valencia Altarpiece Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The central large panel, clearly intended as the pièce de resistance of the whole work, shows the Saint in the midst of the Christian soldiers at the height of the famous battle of Sta. Maria de Puig in 1237, when he helped the armies of King James the Conqueror to rout the Moorish enemy (Plate ) The King of Aragon is shown in the centre, with his horse draped in the red and gold colours of Aragon. St. George is next to him, and behind the king is Don Guillen de Aguilo, one of the commanders of the Aragon forces.

The victory over the Moors at Puig led directly to the liberation of Valencia in 1238, which explains why it merited depiction in such a dominant position on an altar-piece in this great city. The altarpiece was commissioned by a confraternity called the ‘Centenar de de Ploma’ of Valencia. This was a company of archers, the plume or feather of the arrow being a symbol of their military occupation. The actual insignia of the Order was a crossbow, which is shown to the right of the symbol of the Holy Spirit at the very top of the retable. To the left of the Holy Spirit is the red cross of St. George. The three feathers which form such an elegant feature of the figure of
 St. George in the large panel at the bottom of the retable also obviously relate to the plume or ‘Ploma’ of the Order, and it is quite possible that this particular icon of the Saint was the source of the practice of displaying feathers on the head of St. George and of his horse, which became an established element in the iconography of the Saint in western art, and still later became a general attribute of knights.

The Centenar de la Ploma, or Compania de Ballesters (archers), was originally a hundred strong, when it was formed by King Pedro IV of Aragon in 1365, in recognition of the part played by Valencian archers in Pedro IV’s war with Pedro the Cruel of Castile. The company’s patron Saint was St. George, and over their breast plates the members of the Centenar wore a white silk shirt with the red cross of St. George on the front and back. The company later formed a confraternity dedicated to St. George, the ‘Confradia del Centenar de la Ploma’, and by the time its privileges were confirmed by King John I in 1393, the membership was extended to include 500 men and 600 women. When the retable was commissioned, sometime around 1410-1420, this Confraternity was evidently a powerful and wealthy institution.

The original location of the retable in Valencia has been the subject of extensive researches by Kaufmann. There is a very old church of San Jorge in Valencia, founded in 1324 as the collegiate church of the combined Orders of Montesa and St. George of Alfama. The Order of St. George of Alfama was in fact the oldest Order in Western Europe dedicated to St. George, having been formed by Pedro the Catholic in 1201. It was earlier thought that this church must have been the original home of the retable now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but Kaufmann found that the dimensions of its side altars were inadequate, and it hardly seems likely that the main altar of the collegiate church of such a powerful Order would bear the insignia of a lesser company, that of the Centenar de la Ploma. And historians of this Order make no mention of such a retable of St. George.

Further investigation by Kaufmann showed however that the Centenar owned a meeting house in the Calle de Ballesters, adjacent to the church of San Jorge, on a site now occupied by the principal theatre of Valencia. This house contained a large chapel, and an 18th century guide book of the city dated 1740 describes a structure in it with remnants of an altar-piece, the dimensions of which correspond closely with those of the retable now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. So it is probable that sometime between 1711, the date of the abolishment of the Centenar, and the writing of this guide book in 1740, this great work of art was torn out and sold on the open market. Later the chapel itself was demolished. So, it seems, one of the greatest mediaeval Spanish works of art was lost to Valencia and eventually was lost to Spain.

The Valencia altar-piece is uniquely outstanding, and in the context of St. George, Spain can boast no other similar work of medieval religious art to compare with it. There is another much smaller altar-piece by the artist Louis Borrassa, who worked in Spain from 1383 to 1425, in the convent of Vilafranca del Pinades, near Barcelona, which carries five scenes of the passion of St. George, together with scenes from the life of Our Lady. This is tentatively dated as C1392-1400, just predating the Valencia altar-piece.

Despite the scarcity of examples of Georgian religious art in local Spanish churches, there is however one other great Spanish monument to St. George which must be described and elaborated. This is to be found in the heart of the old city of Barcelona, the Barrio, where the great medieval cathedral and
 many other ancient buildings are located. Close by the 
cathedral is the Palace of the Generalitat of Barcelona, the old parliament building of Catalonia, at the heart of which there
lies the exquisite chapel of St. George, one of the most
 beautiful tributes that has ever been dedicated to our Saint.

Generalitat Barcelona front door
Generalitat, Barcelona

The modern history of Spain may give the impression that democracy is a newcomer to that ancient country, but in fact some parts of Spain produced systems of democratic government long before these emerged in most other European states. In particular, the mainland states under the crown of Aragon developed an admirable and effective parliamentary system. In 1283 Peter III of Aragon established an annual Corts for Catalonia, which had considerable legislative power, and which instituted a commission to control collection and expenditure of taxes. This commission, which became permanent in the late 14th century, and which represented the Catalan community when the Corts was not in session, soon assumed responsibility for defending Catalan liberties against monarchic encroachment. It was entitled the ‘Diputacio del General de Catalunya’, and the building in which it met was called ‘The Palace of the Generalitat’. In due course both the Diputacio and its meeting place became popularly known as ‘The Generalitat’, and are still so called today.
 In the 18th century, the Habsburg King Philip V of Spain took control of Catalonia, and both the Diputacio and the Corts Catalanes were abolished, as were similar institutions in other parts of Aragon. The Diputacio was not restored until 1931, when the Palace again became the seat of Government of an autonomous Catalonia. After the civil war of 1936-1939, however, the Diputacio was once again suppressed, and the Palace became the seat of the administration of the Province of Barcelona. With the re-establishment of democracy in 1977 the Palace once more became the seat of the Generalitat, even before the approval of the new Spanish Constitution in 1978. A new Statute of Autonomy became law in 1979, elections were held to choose the 135 members of the Parliament of Catalonia, and a new President of the Generalitat was chosen. Once more the Generalitat had become the true Government of an autonomous Catalonia.

Generalitat 1
The Generalitat, Barcelona

The Palace of the Generalitat is a complex group of buildings and courtyards, entirely contained within a block around 40 metres by 120 metres. From the 40 metre eastern frontage onto the Placa de Sant Jaume, the block runs westward for 120 metres between the Carrer del Bisbe to the north, and the Carrer de Sant Honorat to the south: at its western end, the Carrer de Sant Sever separates the palace from the cathedral. The plan of this palace evolved over a period of just over two centuries, between 1403 and 1630, as adjacent houses and other buildings within the block were progressively adapted or rebuilt to serve the needs of the evolving state parliament.

Apart from the 16th century facade onto the Placa de Sant Jaume, much of the exterior of the palace is an unattractive wall of grey stone, but internally, the palace that emerged from this evolutionary process is an unexpectedly delightful complex of state rooms and offices, salons and halls and galleries, joined by superb stairways and courtyards, which merge into a fairy-like maze of rooms and patios.
The oldest part of the complex, the work of Marc Safont (1416-1418) is a block within a block, built around a central patio of outstanding beauty. It is entered through a gateway from the Carrer del Bisbe, the original entrance of the 15th century palace, dominated by a great medallion of an equestrian Sant Jordi with the dragon, a work of the sculptor Pere Joan.

Generalitat 2
Sant Jordi by Pere Joan Generalitat, Barcelona
Pere Joan sculpture Generalitat
Sculpture of Sant Jordi, Generalitat, Barcelona (detail)

The stone work of the gateway and wall is decorated with a balustrade in late Gothic style surmounted by pinnacles and gargoyles, one of the gargoyles representing the maiden rescued by St. George in his legendary battle with the dragon. The inner patio is surrounded by the main floor gallery with its outstandingly delicate columns, reminiscent of cloisters in Catalan Gothic monasteries, which is reached by a superbly crafted stairway supported by a long, shallow stone arch of most elegant and unusual design.

Here, at the heart of the palace, stands the magnificent doorway to the Chapel of Sant Jordi, the patron saint of the Generalitat: this is marvel of filigrane ornamentation, with mouldings and floral detail in late Gothic style, more akin to the decoration of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor in England, than to the normally austere Gothic style of Catalonia. Within the door, however, the interior of Chapel of Sant Jordi is in great contrast to that of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. Here are no great soaring pillars, no cathedral-like nave with great vaulted ceilings. Instead, this chapel is a shrine in miniature, like a precious gem of devotion to the Saint; but despite its size, it is even more richly endowed with items of Georgian iconography than is the Windsor chapel.

Generalitat Chapel of Sant Jordi
The Chapel of Sant Jordi, Generalitat, Barcelona
Generalitat Chapel showing frontal
Interior of the Capella de Sant Jordi, Generalitat, Barcelona

The first part of the chapel, and indeed the earliest part to be built (1432-1439), is a small square-shaped area lit by a fine rose window, with a delicate ribbed vault ceiling, the centre boss of which displays a charming wooden carving of an equestrian St. George with the Dragon, surrounded by angels.

Generalitat boss of St George
Wooden ceiling boss of Sant Jordi, Chapel of Sant Jordi, Generalitat, Barcelona

Enclosed in a protective glass case mounted on the right-hand wall of this very small original chapel is a superb embroidered altar-frontal, again depicting St. George and the Dragon. The embroidery involves a form of stump work, which provides a most remarkable three dimensional relief effect. The highly detailed composition includes gruesome details of the bones of the dragon’s former victims, as well as elaborate detail of the royal family and the courtiers who watch in anguish the scene of the princess’s rescue. The golden tones of the embroidery form a contrasting background for the bright red crosses of St. George which flank the scene, crosses which are also the insignia of the Generalitat. This very fine work is attributed to the Antoni Sandurni (1450).

Capella SAnt Jordi frontal
Altar-frontal Capella de Sant Jordi, Generalitat, Barcelona

In 1536 the chapel was extended with the addition of the area which now forms the chancel, plus a small sacristy to its left. Above the chancel there rises a small cupola, framed by four hanging capitals, similar to one found at the corner of the main gallery of the patio. The altar now in place in the chancel is in keeping with 20th century liturgical reforms, and is therefore much smaller than that which originally must have matched the embroidered frontal displayed on the wall of the entrance chamber. The frontal of the new altar, which immediately strikes the eye when one enters from the gallery, is an impressive portrayal of an equestrian St. George and the Dragon in silver relief work, a marked contrast to Sandurni’s 16th century embroidery, but fully in keeping with the general ambience of the chapel.


In the sacristy are housed more iconographic gems commemorating St. George. There is a superb 15th century silver statuette of the Saint in combat with the dragon, and two silver reliquaries which once housed relics of St. George. The relics were probably those listed by Milla i Reig[6] as having been donated to Barcelona: a rib of the Saint given by the German Ambassador William of St. Clement, and an ampoule containing a drop of the blood of St. George, given in 1609 by the Duke of Monteleon. There are also some very fine embroidered vestments which clearly match the Sandurni frontal, and which undoubtedly came from the same workshop, and perhaps from Sandurni himself. Their embroidery depicts scenes of the martyrdom of the Saint.

Statuette of St George Capella Generalitat
15th century statuette of St George from the chapel of the Generalitat, Barcelona

This beautiful small chapel is a superb shrine to 
St. George, fully matching in overall quality the great shrines in Windsor and Stockholm and Venice. But the chapel is in fact only the heart of a more extensive monument dedicated to the Saint: i.e. the whole of the Palace of the Generalitat. The theme of St. George and the Dragon, seen in the great medallion of Pere Joan and in the treasures of the Chapel of Sant Jordi, is repeated on a 16th century Seal of the Generalitat, preserved with the historical records of the Generalitat. Icons of the Saint can be found at every turn throughout the patios and buildings of the Palace. The 16th century extensions included a magnificent courtyard called Pati dels Tarongers, Patio of the Orange Trees. In one section of this lovely Patio, there is an attractive 20th century fountain surmounted by a charming and elegant metalwork representation of the equestrian St. George and the Dragon, a work of the sculptor Frederic Galcera (1926).

Generalitat statue of St George Tarragona
St George in the Pati dels Tarongers, Generalitat, Barcelona

Elsewhere in the Patio there can be found a less conventional sculpture of the Saint, a rather sombre, lightly clad standing figure with shield and downward pointing sword, work of the sculptor Joan Rebull (1899-1981).

The last major addition to the Palace, at the very end of the 16th century, was the Salo de Sant Jordi, the Salon of 
St. George, with its attractive Renaissance style facade which dominates the Placa de Sant Jaume. The Salon itself was at first intended to be a new Chapel to replace the beautiful medieval gem at the heart of the palace, but instead this rather grand, if not grandiose addition more fittingly became the principal reception salon for parliamentary affairs. The facade is reminiscent of Renaissance palaces in Rome, and unlike the Salon itself, it is pleasantly restrained in design, and fits well into the ambience of the Placa de Sant Jaume, the ancient centre of political and administrative life of Barcelona and Catalonia. It was built by Paul Blau (1596-1620), and the architecture achieves a pleasing harmony through its pattern of alternating triangular and curved canopies over the windows, flanked by columns which stand at the outer ends of the facade.

Generalitat facade
St George by Andreu Aleu, Generalitat, Barcelona

The centrepiece of the facade today is an impressive sculpture by Andreu Aleu (1860), once again depicting the equestrian scene of St. George and the Dragon, within a recess which also houses busts of the three Deputies who commissioned the building of the facade at the end of the 16th century. Above the recess is a shield with the cross of Sant Jordi, the patron Saint of the Generalitat of Catalonia. The diamond-shaped design of this shield is identical with that found on the 15th century Valencia altarpiece of Marzal de Sas.

During the Mancomunitat of Catalonia (1914-1923), the Palace was the formal seat of this institution which united the four provincial administrations under the presidency of Prat de la Riba. A major programme of restoration took place during
 this period, and among other things, many works by important Catalan contemporary artists were commissioned, depicting scenes from the legend of St. George, the patron Saint of the Generalitat and of Catalonia. These included the ‘Sant Jordi’ by Enric Monjo which is hung in the gallery of the Palace, paintings of the Saint by Montserrat Gudiol, displayed in the Hall of the Virgin of Montserrat, and a very modern metal relief by Josep Maria Subirachs, at the entrance of the neo-Gothic bridge which joins the Palace with the official residence of the President of the Generalitat, the Casa dels Canong.

On St. George’s Day, 23rd April, in accordance with medieval custom, the Palace of the Generalitat opens its doors to all citizens who wish to come to honour Sant Jordi. The medieval patios within the Palace become gardens filled with roses on this day, because in Catalonia as in England, the rose is an emblem of St. George. Crowds line the galleries to gaze down on the spectacle, the bells of the carrillon ring out, and the Placa de Sant Jaume is thronged with people crowding around bookstalls, because in Catalonia St. George’s day is the festival of books as well as of roses, both being symbols of love and culture. A 19th century painting by d’Antoni de Ferrer depicts the patio of the Palace, with its stairway leading to the Capella de Sant Jordi, thronged with ladies purchasing roses. It is entitled “La Fira de les roses” o “Fira dels enamorats” en el pati de l’antigua Generalitat el dia de sant Jordi.

Such celebrations of the feast day are by no means confined to Barcelona. Throughout Catalonia this day is observed as the most important feast day of the year, not only in religious circles, but across the widest spectrum of social and cultural interest. Local newspapers bring out special commemorative editions entirely devoted to their patron saint. A typical one is the front page of the 23rd April 1985 issue of Los Sitios, Diari de Girona, the Catalan daily newspaper of Gerona, portraying a delightful medley of flowers and books, crowned by a light hearted medallion of St. George and the Dragon. The contents

Chapt 6 Plate 10 alt
from Los sitios Diari de Girona

page of the same issue, presented in the design of a typical ‘Goig’, the Catalan name for the traditional prayer sheets that used to carry verses and prayers dedicated to Our Lady and to other popular saints. Every page of this issue carries articles and advertisements relating in one way or another to the devotion to St. George, including cartoons for the children.

Not only in Catalan cities, but also in cities throughout Aragon and Valencia and Mallorca, the states that were historically associated with Catalonia under the Crown of Aragon, the feast day of St. George is widely and fervently celebrated with parades and celebrations. As earlier mentioned, in Alcoy and neighbouring Valencian cities, great parades of ‘Moors and Christians’ take place to commemorate St. George’s help in defeating the Moorish enemy there in 1476. And indeed, this day has achieved even wider recognition through the rest of Spain, having been declared in 1926 to be ‘The Day of Liberty’, partly because of the coincidence that 23rd April commemorates the death of the writer Cervantes.

In Portugal, St. George’s day is widely celebrated, but here the cult has an origin quite different from the origin of the cult in Spain. In Portugal St. George is not commemorated as the liberator of the Christians from the cruel Moors; he is instead commemorated as the liberator of the Portuguese from the cruel Castillian Spaniards. The cult stemmed from the famous Battle of Aljubarotta which was fought in 1385 near the city of Leiria, a decisive engagement when Portuguese forces repelled an invasion that had been mounted by John I, king of Castile.

The invasion had been prompted by the seizure of the Portuguese crown by Joao of Aviz, who, with widespread popular support, and with the help of the patriot Nuno Alvarez Pereira, established the long-lasting Portuguese royal dynasty of House of Aviz. The Portuguese were staunchly aided by the English forces of John of Gaunt, who was a claimant to the Castilian throne through his second marriage to Constanza, daughter of Pedro the Cruel of Castile.

In the battle that ensued, the English forces repeatedly cried out to St. George to assist them, and he was judged to have responded nobly to their call, because they thoroughly routed the invaders. In the following year an alliance between England and Portugal was formally signed and declared, an alliance that has lasted right up to the present day. The House of Aviz established their royal palace in the fortifications on the hills above Lisbon, and in gratitude to St. George and the English it was called ‘The Castle of St. George’, which is still the name of this massive fortress which watches over the beautiful capital city of Portugal.

In 1388, a great Dominican monastery was founded close to the site of the Battle of Aljuboretta, about 100 km north of Lisbon, to commemorate the Anglo-Portuguese victory. It dedicated to Our Lady of Victory, and was appropriately named the Mosteiro de Batalha (Battle Abbey). As the burial site of kings and princes of the House of Aviz it later became the Portuguese equivalent of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. The parallel was made even closer by the fact that several of the early members of this dynasty were elected to membership of the English ‘Order of St. George named the Garter’, which is subject of a later chapter in this book. King Joao I (d. 1433), who in 1387 married Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt by his first marriage, was the first of these Portuguese members of the English Order. The tomb of Joao and Phillipa at Batalha Monastery carries not only the arms of the Portuguese Order of Aviz, and their personal arms, but also the arms of the English Order of St. George: i.e. the Cross of St. George surrounded with a Garter carrying the famous motto ‘Honi Soit Qui Mai y Pense’.[7]

John ist Portugal
Tomb of Joao I and Phillipa, Batalha Monastery, Portugal

Three of the five sons of King Joao I and his English wife Phillipa, cousins of the English King Henry V, including the famous Infante Don Enrique (better known to us as Henry the Navigator), were also elected to the English Order of St. George. After their deaths all three were buried at the Monastery of Batalha, and their tombs also carry the insignia of the Order of St. George. [8]

The close and cordial Anglo-Portuguese alliance, steadily maintained through joint political and commercial affairs, and through intimate family ties, has continued unbroken for more than six centuries since that historic victory on the battlefield of Aljuboretta. It is a pleasant conceit to imagine that perhaps St. George’s watchful eye has had something to do with this very close and friendly alliance that has for so long endured between England and her oldest ally, the sovereign State of Portugal.














[1] Milla I Reig L (ed)   Sant Jordi, Patro de Catalunya, Milla , Barcelona, 1972

[2] op cit n 1

[3] op cit n 1

[4] op cit n 1

[5] Kaufmann C M        The Altar-Piece of St George from Valencia, pp 65-100. V &                               A Museum Yearbook, 2, 19972

[6] op cit n 1

[7] Davies T R                A Prince of the Blood of Lancaster, Coat of Arms, Vol VI, No                                46, pp 233-235, April 1961

[8]  Pye R F                   Princes of the Blood of Lancaster, Coat of Arms, Vol VII, No                                51, pp 96-100, July 1962