“This is the legend of the patron saints of Calahorra, Spain, my home town and also of the city of Santander, a coastal city on the Bay of Bisay. The Roman poet Aurelius Prudentius, that was also from Calahorra, said that two brothers, Emeterius and Celedonius, who served as soldiers of the seventh legion called, Gemina were martyred at Calagurris (now known as Calahorra). But the exact time and place are unknown. The legend says they were martyred around the year 300 AD at the banks of the Cidacos River, which still today bears the same name and flows by the town. This was during the prosecutions of Christians by Emperor Diocletian and Emperor Valerian. They were imprisoned and forced to decide between renouncing their Christian faith or leaving the army. The legend says, they chose their faith and as a result were tortured and finally decapitated on banks of the river outside the city walls. When the soldiers were decapitated, they were kneeling on the bank and their severed heads rolled down into the water. Their heads floated away in the river and made their way onto a raft made of stone that was miraculously floating. But instead of floating downstream, south towards the Mediteranean where the river eventually discharges, they floated upstream. Eventually finding their way to the city of Santander where the heads also received veneration. In Santander, Alfonso, the 2nd of Aragon, built an abbey in honor of these two saints. In Calahorra, on the spot where they were martyred, the Christian cathedral was built, in the 4th century, in the late 300’s. The cathedral that exists in the town today was built on top of this original cathedral. It has been a puzzle as to why the cathedral was built outside the city walls and on the river bank and the legend explains this because this was the exact location of their decapitation. The coat of arms of the city of Calahorra features the names of the saints, two crossing swords and two half moons that represent the beheaded necks with dripping blood. August 30th is the major city holiday of the year, celebrating the patron saints. Relics of the two saints are taken out from the cathedral on procession through the town streets on this day. Even the main street in Calahorra is called “Calle de los Martires” (Street of the Martyrs) and martyrdom is a common theme in all the cities memorabilia, seals, and collective culture. There are elementary schools, businesses, bakeries, pastry shops, that use the saints names and/or “martyr.” The “fiestas patronales” (town festivals) are in their honor. The city is often referred to, even today as “The City of the Martyrs” just as New York City is called “The Big Apple.”
This legend, it’s continuation and it being the basis for present-day businesses and festivals is exemplary of how the influence the Catholic church had on the country of Spain and continues to have. Although, many people no longer affiliate with the religion of Catholicism, most of Spain’s traditions are rooted in it and continue to be performed. Every town in Spain has its own patron saint(s) and the festivals of the town are based on those saints. One of the most well known examples of this is the festival of Sanfermines from the city of San Fermin. Their patron saint is Saint Fermin.
My father, the participant is from the town of Calahorra, Spain and I, myself have been there many times. I have partaken in the festivals (‘fiestas’) and been to the cathedral but never knew the story behind the patron saints of the town.