Saint Eulalia was a young girl who lived outside the walls of Barcino, Roman Barcelona, during the reign of the Tetrarchy of Diocletian. This was bad luck because Eulalia was a fervent Christian and Diocletian was notorious for his persecution of them.
In Rome, Christians had been suspicious, unpopular characters for more than two hundred years. Historian Tacitus said they “showed hatred of the human race”.
Many Romans were worried about their refusal to participate in the normal fabric of Roman society, to worship the Gods and take civic responsibility.
Others, simpler and superstitious no doubt, believed Christians practiced incest and cannibalism, anticipating the Medieval Christians’ own beliefs about Jews.
Diocletian decided that the fabric of Roman society was under threat by the subversive Christians and, wishing to restore Roman traditions and religion, ordered churches to be demolished, forbad Christians for worshipping together and commanded they should be “compelled by every device to offer sacrifice”. Many Christians were tortured and killed for refusing.
Dacian, the Roman Governor of Barcelona naturally obeyed his master and persecuted local Christians.
Eulalia, by all accounts a strong willed girl, went into Barcelona and gave the Governor a ticking off for persecuting the Christians. Dacian, shocked by the impropriety but also moved to pity by the girl’s youth, offered to forget the matter if Eulalia would recant and worship the Roman Gods. Eulalia refused and was imprisoned. So much for Dacian’s pity.
Eulalia was imprisoned in the street known today as Arc de Santa Eulalia, and you can see the arch, still in an old wall, just by Carrer Boquería before you get to the end near Carrer Banys Nous and Carrer d’Avinyo.
Some say the Sun was so upset at Eulalia’s imprisonment that since that time it has never again shone on that street. Look for at the photo, better still go yourself; you’ll never see a sunbeam reaching that street of sad memory.
Dacian decided to give Eulalia another chance. Thirteen chances, in fact; one for each year of her life.
He decreed thirteen tortures for Eulalia and, after each one, she was given a chance to recant and make sacrifice to the Imperial Gods.
First, she was flogged. Then, her flesh was torn with hooks. After that, her feet were placed in a brazier of burning coals. Her breasts were then cut off. After this, boiling oil was poured over her. Next, molten lead. Still refusing to recant (could she speak?), she was thrown into a pit filled with quick lime.
Not satisfied with this and desperate to cow Eulalia, Dacian had her put into a barrel filled with broken glass, razors and knives and rolled it thirteen times down the hill known as the Baixada de Santa Eulalia.
This street is just by the Cathedral, leading to Banys Nous, after the beautiful Square known as Sant Felip Neri.
You can see a small shrine to her at the top of the hill. Eulalia stands next to a barrel.
She was then locked naked in a stable full of fleas. It is said that every time a flea bit her, it died. But she was locked in all night and there were hundreds of thousands of insects.
Today, people still say that –in memory of Eulalia’s torments– flea bites are more painful on the 12th of February than any other day of the year…
Dacian then had her paraded naked around town on a cart, but the sky took pity on her and covered her in a mantle of snow to protect her modesty.
Back in prison, Eulalia managed to escape with the help of an angel.
Dacian captured her again and crucified her on an “X” shaped cross. Again, snow fell to protect her from view and since that time, it has never snowed in Barcelona on the 12th of February.
At her death, her soul left her body in the shape of a white dove.
You can see Eulalia today, with her cross, by the Church of Sant Llatzer in the Plaça del Pedró, the place of her final martyrdom.
Despite Dacian’s order that her body be displayed till “the crows have eaten the very bones”, her remains were secretly removed and buried in a chapel known as Santa María de les Arenes, on the site of the future Santa María del Mar church.
Eulalia’s toe and the Plaça del Angel.
In 878 Eulalia’s remains were discovered in the humble fishermen’s chapel and carried to a shrine prepared in the Cathedral of Barcelona. When the procession reached the end of the Carrer Bòria and the city walls, the chest became so heavy that the bearers were obliged to set it down before the city gate. No matter how they tried, they could not lift and carry the chest any further to enter the city.
This place was known as the Plaça del Blat because the country folk sold wheat there.
At a loss as to how to continue, the bishop asked the thousands of people present to pray to Heaven for help. At once an angel appeared, its arm raised and pointing at one of the priests. The crowd gaped. Impressively severe and silent, the angel continued pointing at the Canon.
After a minute or so, the poor man broke down, fell to his knees and confessed that his devotion to the Saint was so great he had taken one of Eulalia’s toes as a personal relic. Heaven probably felt this is a bit too much, as if the poor girl hadn’t suffered enough in life without people swiping her toes after death…
The chest was opened then and there, the toe replaced, the coffer suddenly lost its weight and was easily carried to its final resting place in the Cathedral crypt, where it can be seen to this day.
After this remarkable occurrence, the Square was renamed la Plaça del Angel and a copper figure of an angel, arm and finger extended, was fixed on the wall. This too can be seen in the nearby History Museum. In 1456 a sculpture of Saint Eulalia watched over the gate to the city. This disappeared when the square was remodelled in 1865. A copy now stands on the building at Nº 2.
The Geese in Barcelona Cathedral Cloisters
Many say that the thirteen geese in Barcelona Cathedral Cloisters are there in memory of Barcelona’s first patron Saint, one goose for year of her short life. Eulalia kept the geese when she lived at home and for this reason, and because a white dove flew from her mouth at the moment of her death, she is the Patron Saint of Birds.
However, others dispute this saying the geese are a remnant of the Roman cult of Cibeles when the birds were kept at Roman Temples and their voices interpreted to predict the future. As birds were traditionally kept on the site of the Temple of Augustus, they remained there when the Cathedral was built a few yards away…
There is also a connection between Eulalia and the voice. The name itself means “well-spoken”.
Eulalia and Water. Why it always rains during the Barcelona Mercé Festival
When Eulalia was little girl, she would go to the local well to fetch water for the family. One day, on arriving she came across several other girls at the well, all crying. The well had dried up and there was no water for anyone. Eulalia put her shawl over the well and at once the water began to flow. In fact, so much water began to flow that it became a river.This river continues to run till this day, although it is now underground and the Council collects its water to use in parks and fountains. Before the harbour was extended this underground river or Riu de Sota emptied itself in the port and could prove dangerous for fishermen after days of heavy rain.
This affinity with water is one of the reasons why, in Barcelona in times of drought, people pray to Santa Eulalia to make it rain.
People can be fickle though. Once, in 1687, the city was threatened by an invasion of locusts and thoughts turned to calling for Divine intervention. But instead of calling on the Barcelona’s patron, people prayed to Our Lady of Mercy. She saved the city’s crops and was named patron Saint, alongside the older Eulalia. After the Pope confirmed the nomination two hundred years later, Barcelona began celebrating its Festival in September on the Our Lady of Mercy’s Day. When this occurs, Santa Eulalia, lonely and abandoned, with no popular celebration of her own, weeps; and her tears fall as rain on Barcelona.
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