Follow one of our students, Matt, as he recounts his exploration of Saint Eulalia and his participation in the festival in her honor:
For quite some time, I have made my way up and down the street where my apartment is located here in the heart of the Gothic Quarter. To me, this enchanting walkway was fascinating. It was my home away from home and through it I could travel to a myriad of interesting new places. However, it wasn’t until the weekend of February 10th that I discovered the historical significance of the very street that I was living on and what that street means to the people of Barcelona.
I had always been curious as to the importance of the glowing shrine and plaque that was located a few doors down from my apartment. To me it appeared to be a monument dedicated to some sort of religious figure, a religious figure so important that nearly every walking tour ventured up my street in order to make note of it.
The pieces of this historical puzzle began to come together when I received an email from the ALBA staff regarding the festivities that were to take place on the weekend of February 10th. The email informed me that all weekend long, near the Cathedral and in Saint James’ Square, there were to be ceremonies and traditional events dedicated to Saint Eulalia.
Due to one of the classes I was taking at ALBA I knew who Saint Eulalia was; I also knew why many people in Barcelona would be eager to celebrate the memory of her. Saint Eulalia was a young Roman girl living in Barcelona during the third century after Jesus. This was not a friendly time for Christians belonging to the Roman Empire. The Empire was losing strength and perceived Christians, who tended to question the authority of the Emperor, as a great danger to the future of their far-reaching dynasty.
Ultimately, the Romans sought to consolidate and solidify power and began persecuting Christians who refused to abandon their beliefs. Eulalia, just 13 years old at the time, refused demands to leave the Christian faith. For this, she was mercilessly tortured in thirteen different ways and was ultimately killed. This made her a martyr for Christians in the city and droves of people in Barcelona still remember her through the annual “Santa Eulalia Festival”. To this day, Eulalia is the co-patron saint of Barcelona and the Cathedral here is named her honor.
This brings me back to my street, Carrer de Sant Sever, and the shrine that resides in its walls. I came to realize that this shrine depicted Saint Eulalia and the plaque was dedicated to her sacrifice. It is located here because Carrer de Sant Sever is one of the streets where the young martyr was tortured. Specifically, she was placed in a barrel full of glass and knives and then was rolled down the sloped street. I was sincerely amazed to discover that I was living on a street where such a tragic, yet rich and meaningful piece of history took place.
Upon realizing this, I was immediately intrigued as to what the festival honoring Eulalia would look like. My friends and I decided to attend as many events as we could and immerse ourselves in the festivities. What we found was extraordinary.
Over the course of the weekend we were able to see a diverse display of celebration.
In Saint James’ Square we watched an enthralling light show that was accompanied by captivating audio effects. This was a part of the light show held every year called Llum BCN. The light show was projected directly onto the palace of the President of Catalonia and it was intended to appear as though the building was alive. The visuals told Eulalia’s story in a creative and entertaining way. The show was on a loop so passersby could watch the show at any point throughout the night.
Also passing through Saint James’ Square was the fire run or correfoc. Held for both children and adults, many participants dress up as in religious and mythical costumes and use fireworks and props while marching through the Old City in honor of Saint Eulalia.
Later in the weekend, we witnessed our first procession of the Giants and Saint Eulalia. Here, the festival volunteers really got the crowd involved and brought the event to life. Using elaborate costumes, props, and stunning fireworks they captivated onlookers. I recall running in the massive crowd while trying to get away from the massive giants as they rained down fireworks from above. This event was my particular favorite as it was lighthearted and made everyone, Catalan or tourist, truly feel as if they were a part of the festival. I was struck by how much fun everyone around me seemed to be having.
Another unique and wildly impressive part of the “Santa Eulalia Festival” was the Castellers competition. Debatably one of the oldest traditions at the festival, a Castell is a human tower built vertically for show or for competition amongst teams. This tradition dates back to roughly 1712 and is believed to have originated near Tarragona, Spain. Well practiced teams push themselves to build human towers that are more creative, taller, and involve more people than other teams competing. The result is truly a feat of focus and human ability. This Spanish tradition was truly amazing to see in person and not surprisingly it has risen in popularity around Europe.
The events listed above are just a few out of the dozens of activities, ceremonies, traditions, and things to see during the weekend that is “Santa Eulalia Festival”. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona during February 10th, 11th, or 12th this historical and enriching celebration is a must see.