Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Was Valentine a romantic hero? by Sheila Claydon
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As someone who writes romantic fiction, I thought it beholden upon me to write about St Valentine's Day when I realised it was my turn to blog on 14 February. After all, who doesn't secretly hope to receive a token of love on the one day of the year reserved for lovers. When I realised I didn't actually know much about St Valentine, I decided I had better find out. The result was not quite what I expected.
February has long been celebrated as a month of romance but why? Although the truth is hidden in the mists of time, the modern tradition of St Valentine’s Day is linked to christianity and ancient Rome. So who was Valentine and why was he made a saint?
There are at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One was a priest who lived in third century Rome at a time when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men because he thought single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform secret marriages for young lovers. When Claudius found out he ordered that he be put to death.
There is also the legend that Valentine was killed for helping Christians escape from harsh Roman prisons to rescue them from beatings and torture.
My favourite, however, is that an imprisoned Valentine sent the first valentine greeting himself when he fell in love with a young girl who visited him in jail, and who it is rumoured was his jailer's daughter. Before his death he supposedly wrote her a letter signed From your Valentine, the very same expression modern lovers use today.
Whatever the truth behind the legends, they all describe Valentine as a sympathetic, heroic and romantic figure, and by the Middle Ages he was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
So is Valentine’s Day celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the St Valentine’s death or was the choice of date an attempt by the church to christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which took place on February 15 every year. Lupercalia was a pagan fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
Young women today wouldn't find being slapped with strips of goat's hide that had been dipped into sacrificial blood very romantic, but it worked for young Roman women who believed it would make them fertile for the rest of the year. According to legend, once slapped each girl would place her name in a community urn and wait for one of the city's bachelors to choose her to be his partner for the year. This didn't always end in marriage!
When Lupercalia was finally outlawed at the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was a long time before it became associated with love, however. In the Middle Ages, France and England believed that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which is definitely not the same.
The oldest known written valentine was penned in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. It is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.
I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine,
Since for me you were born too soon,
And I for you was born too late.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.
Well might I have suspected that such a destiny,
Thus would have happened this day,
How much that Love would have commanded.
I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine.