Of Barcelona’s three patronesses, the legend of Saint Eulalia is the most deep-rooted in the city. Everybody knows the story: a young Christian woman in the 4th century who lived in Sarrià and who refused to recant her faith during the Diocletianic Persecution. As a result, she was subject to thirteen horrifying forms of torture in very well-known locations around the city and her remains are buried in the crypt at la Catedral.
However, Barcelona is not the only place where Saint Eulalia is venerated: she also features in a Merida legend that is suspiciously similar. The saint dates back to the same age as Barcelona’s Eulalia, she died in the same persecutions, stood up to the same Roman emperor, was subject to identical forms of torture, was nailed to an X-shaped cross and, what’s more, it even started to snow when she died.
However, everything seems to suggest that Saint Eulalia de Merida actually existed, whereas Saint Eulalia de Barcelona did not. It would appear to be a local version of the same legend, with experts claiming that this is a case of a single legend claimed by two different places. This could explain why in the version known in Barcelona, such great emphasis is placed on highlighting specific locations in the city in which the festivities take place. It is well-known that she lived in the esplanade outside Sarrià, that she was imprisoned close to modern-day Passatge de Santa Eulàlia, that she was rolled in a barrel down Baixada de Santa Eulàlia and that she was brought to justice in Plaça del Padró.
The story of Saint Eulalia de Merida, whose feast day is on 10 December, is documented in the third book of the Peristephanon. Written by Aureli Climent Prudenci, a hymn is dedicated to the saint, which may be based on a long-lost Passion. Despite the conjecture that surrounds the description of her torture, it is likely based on a real event suffered by a girl in Merida: the fact that she has been worshipped since 350 makes it likely she was a real person.