SANTA EULÀLIA: BARCELONA’S COURAGEOUS 13-YEAR-OLD HEROINE
Patron saints are a concept that I’ve always found interesting. Many of the most famous patron saints happen to be men. In Barcelona’s case, it’s not a patron but a patroness. What’s more, there isn’t just one but three: Mare de Déu de la Mercè, Santa Madrona and Santa Eulàlia. This makes each a co-patroness. How many places do you know of that can claim that?
Since Barcelona is getting ready to celebrate its Festes de Santa Eulàlia this coming Friday, we want to focus on her story.
Shrouded in doubt, Santa Eulàlia of Barcelona was born in Sarrià in A.D. 290; history buffs can’t prove for certain that Eulàlia was ever in Barcelona, citing that there is more evidence to support the existence of Santa Eulàlia de Mérida, whose story is identical and predates that of Santa Eulàlia of Barcelona.
We’re not here to make any sort of claim on whether she ever was or wasn’t here at one time. It could be that the city borrowed the story from Mérida and tailored it to fit its needs. It doesn’t really matter, whatever the case may be, because Barcelona has embraced her and honored her in numerous ways. One of which is her festival that takes place over a four or five-day period leading up to February 12, the day she died.
The story goes that Eulàlia, having grown up in a Christian family in Sarrià, came upon her 13th birthday in A.D. 303 when the city was under the Roman rule of Dacian, who was enforcing the edicts of Emperor Diocletian. The edicts rescinded Christians’ legal rights and demanded that they comply with traditional religious practices. There had always been discrimination against Christianity in the Roman empire before, but the edicts took that discrimination a step further.
Eulàlia, who was none too happy about the treatment Christians were receiving in Barcelona, decided to confront Dacian and express her discontent. Dacian didn’t appreciate this show of defiance. Upon hearing her complaints, he had her arrested. What was her punishment? Dacian sentenced her to suffer 13 tortures for her 13 years of age.
Each of the 13 was either excruciatingly painful and/or unimaginably horrifying. First, she was imprisoned in a dark cell that never saw the light of day. She was then whipped and later had her skin peeled away by hooks. Next, they made her stand in a burning fire and then burned her breasts. Now that her body was covered in wounds, rough stones were used to rub into them. You’d think that would be enough, but then they also sprinkled burning oil and then molten lead on her. After that, she was thrown into a pit of quicklime. One of the most infamous tortures came next. They stripped her naked, put her inside of a barrel full of broken glass, nails and sharp rocks, and rolled her down a downhill street: the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia. Afterwards, they enclosed her in a pen full of flea-ridden livestock.
Although she was now completely beat up, Eulàlia’s spirit still hadn’t been broken. Therefore, they decided it was time to embarrass her. Still naked, they paraded her through the streets of Barcelona on an ox-driven cart. The heavens, it’s said, wouldn’t allow such shame to fall on her. Thus, it began to snow. Eulàlia’s body was covered in a beautiful coat of white snowflakes and no longer exposed. Not only that, but she was then, guided by an angel, able to escape.
That got the authorities riled up!
Unfortunately, Eulàlia’s freedom didn’t last long. Upon being discovered, the authorities decided not to mess around any longer. She was crucified on an X-shaped cross at once and left there to die. The crucification took place at one of three possible locations around the city: at Pla de la Boqueria, Plaça d’Àngel or Plaça del Pedró; the most popular version points to the Pla de la Boqueria as the most likely place.
When Eulàlia breathed her last breath, her soul left her mouth in the shape of a white dove, which flew up to the heavens.
Her body was then taken down by fellow Christians, with great care, and buried in a secret location: the Santa Maria de les Arenas, now the Santa Maria del Mar. In A.D. 633, Eulàlia was canonized and named patron saint of Barcelona. In A.D. 878, her remains were transferred to what is now the Barcelona Cathedral; the cathedral’s official name is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Santa Eulàlia. When you enter the Cathedral today, you can visit her crypt; if you do decide to buy an entry ticket, pay attention to the building’s entry façade to see a well-known villain.
Now, on to the fun!
Festes de Santa Eulàlia
The Santa Eulàlia Festival is packed full of Catalan traditions and events. You can find: castellers (human towers), gegants (giants), correfocs (fire runs), bastoneres (stick dancers), dragons, devils, folk dancing, artisanal fairs and much more! This year, however, most of these events have been cancelled due to COVID-19. All of the typical events that take place in the streets have been called off, but you can still watch videos of them online from past editions of the festival. The most significant traditional acts, the Eulàlia banner ceremony and the floral offering to Santa Eulàlia, will be held but without public attendance; you will be able to watch them live online from the festival’s official webpage.
The events that will be accessible to the public, albeit at a limited capacity, are all exhibitions, including: the giant Laias (“Laia” is the name used to refer to the female giants), Barcelona’s infantile beasts (dragons, dinosaurs, etc.), the gegantons (giants) and capgrossos (big heads), “El Corpus és bestial” (“The Corpus is bestial”), “15 anys de les nostres catifes” (“15 years of our carpets”) and more.
What’s more, many of the museums and cultural centers around the city will still be hosting the annual “Open Doors” day for the public in honor of Eulàlia. Take note so you can take advantage of the free entries!
Festival to be held on: Friday, February 12th, 2021
Check out this year’s boiled down program. You can still find a way to enjoy Barcelona’s biggest winter festival!
Don’t miss out on an opportunity to celebrate Barcelona’s beloved patroness!
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
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*Article updated 7 February 2021 at 14:14 (CET)