SELF-determination was almost set aside yesterday as Catalonia celebrated a 15th century tradition that saw more than seven million books and two million roses sold in Barcelona.

The Day of Books and Roses – St Jordi’s, or St George’s Day – is the Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s when couples exchange roses for books as a token of their love. Thousands flocked to the Catalan capital’s streets as florists and booksellers set up shop in some of its main thoroughfares.

It is also symbolic for world literature, marking the birth or death of writers such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, Victoria Glendinning and more.

Now the Diplomatic Council of Catalonia, Diplocat, wants to take it to the wider world.

It is a public-private partnership that has newly reopened after being shut down by the Spanish government when it imposed direct rule on the north-eastern state following the October 2017 referendum. It acts as an umbrella organisation bringing together a diverse range of members, promoting everything from industrial and digital development through to culture and most things in between.

“What we do is to take this tradition which has existed for many years and explain it abroad and export it,” said Diplocat’s secretary general Laura Foraster.

“We export the essence and values of Catalonia in different areas, and a very important one is culture.

“For us it’s a very important day and we want people to know about it.

“It’s like St Patrick’s Day for the Irish, or St Andrew’s Day for the Scots, so we would like the world to know about this part of our culture and values as Catalan citizens.”

The day features meet the writers events, public readings of their works and school visits, with pupils getting in on the act by selling roses to raise cash for school outings.

Foraster said a website had also been set up to promote the day around the world.

“The idea came from publisher and writer Liz Castro, who lives in Catalonia, and Diplocat took it and now we’ve set up [the website] which is aimed at gathering all the activities related to St Jordi’s Day all over the world. Now we have around 150 different activities in 50 countries around the world, so people can see where to celebrated it wherever they are.”

Unesco has also become involved by producing the first literature map of Barcelona, a free publication that exhausted its first print run in record time and has been hastily reprinted.

The cultural ambitions of the project have not been lost on Iolanda Batallie, director of the cultural organisation Institute Ramon Llull, who is keen on addressing the “digital revolution”.

She said: “When you work as an institution to make your language, culture and literature known all over the world, you have to understand that now in 2019 it is very different from 70 years ago.

“And the key to one of the big changes in that is the map – the areas of culture we’ll be working in. Europe is key, along with places like Japan, Mexico or Russia, or even the Faroe Islands.

“Catalonia has to collaborate deeply with the Faroes for many reasons, such as codfish. Food is also culture so we need this alliance.

“But apart from the physical map, digital is a whole new world. It helps us being more efficient, it helps us connect better, but through a platform for universities we can reach a million.

“It’s a big change.”