Friday, February 12, 2010

An Author, A Priest, and A God: The Making of Saint Valentine’s Day

In a few days it will be the dreaded Valentine’s Day, a day which is most feared and loathed by the world in general.  Ok well maybe not, but to some it is quite intimidating.  It is marked with large red counterfactual shaped hearts, mystical flying doves, boxes of cheap chocolate, cheesy long steamed roses, and a pleasant naked winged baby called cupid who flies around shooting people with his infatuating arrows of love.  It is a time to express love, a time to exchange cards of care,   a time to unveil your true feelings, maybe even a time to become more committed to your significant other.  
                Although all these things are very heart warming and pleasant to the eye it begs a few questions; where did these symbols come from?  A naked winged baby?  Hearts?  Roses? Doves?  How did these ludicrous ideas become a national holiday?  Furthermore who or what is a Valentine?  What is special about February the 14th? Why are we celebrating this day in the first place? All legitimate question to which over 90% of the people celebrating the holiday likely have to clue!  Today I am going to explore the origins and the symbols behind this festive holiday.


     Let us start with the name, which is officially “Saint Valentine’s Day”.  So we are remembering and honouring Saint Valentine.  Now comes a shocker, this holiday (Holyday) patronizes two Catholic Saint Valentines!
Saints Valentine of Rome

                Saint Valentine of Rome was a priest of Rome (surprise!), and even possibly a bishop.  He was known as a physician.  The sources for Saint Valentine of Rome are sparse and uncertain, but it is believed that during the reign of Emperor Claudius II Valentine aided to-be martyrs which were in prison.  Unfortunately for Valentine he was found and taken before Emperor Claudius II, who attempted to make Valentine deny his faith in Jesus Christ.  This being ineffective Valentine was then beaten and imprisoned.  In lore it is said that while imprisoned he converted the jailer by restoring sight to the jailer’s blind daughter, who then he fell in love with.  Valentine was in due time further beaten and finally beheaded on February 14, 270 C.E. An interesting postscript found in lore is that on the eve of Valentines death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer's daughter, signing it, "From your Valentine".
Saint Valentine was buried in Rome on the Flaminian Way. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome, and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.  The date of his Sainthood is unknown.

Saints Valentine of Terni

                Saint Valentine of Terni was born around 175 C.E. at Terni, Italy.  He was Ordained by Saint Felician of Foligno and later consecrated as the Bishop of Terni, Italy by Pope Victor I around C.E. 197.  Saint Valentine of Terni was a noted evangelist, a miracle worker, and a healer.  During the reign of Emperor Aurelian he was imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded by order of the prefect Placid Furius during the persecution of Aurelius. He was murdered in secret and at night on the Via Flaminia between Rome and Terni to avoid riots and revenge by the people of Terni. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni.  Some scholars believe that he and Saint Valentine of Rome are the same person.

   Older Traditions
                In older tradition in Rome, or possible pre-Rome, there is a holiday called Lupercalia, observed in Rome on February 13 through 15.  Lupercalia was an archaic rite connected to fertility.  This festival was in congruence with the more general Roman Festival of Juno Februa, was also celebrated on February 13 through 14.

Valentinian Evolution
In 496 Pope Gelasius I (C.E. 492-496) abolished Lupercalia in what is commonly believed to be the attempt to Christianize this pagan holiday, and in its place they were to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in honour of the Valentine Saints and all “those "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God,"”  This is in similar nature to most holidays,  this being the Christianizing of Paganism, or as sometimes I think of it, the Paganising of Christendom. 
In these forefathers of today’s Valentine’s Day there was almost no romantic association with the cultural or the historical events,   not until much later was these sentiments graphed into the tradition.  The first claims of romantic contamination commonly arise in the late 13th century and the early 14th century where they start cropping up in westerns Europe’s poetry associating Saint Valentine with love, and birds.
Conversely many associate the romantic intrusion into the holiday as early as the 1300’s claiming the author as Geoffrey Chaucer and the medium being his poem “Parlement of Foules” (1382).  This theory is based on a singular line speaking of a “Volantynys day”which many now believe is not in association with what we know now as Valentine’s Day, but rather a Bishop Valentine that died around 307 C.E. some years after the before mentioned Valentines.

The Valentine Card and the EXPLOSION of Love
In the late 17th century in England Valentine’s day progressed to sending poetry and cards to those your loved ones, there started to be published books of love poetry specifically designed to help those woo their maidens even if they themselves were not great poets or orators.  In the early 18th century this became so popular that Valentine cards would be assembled in factories.  During the 18th century, Valentine’s day became a more commercial, and as such, a more established holiday, particularly in Britain.    Britain was the breading pool for modern Valentine’s Day, soon gifts were being delivered to their wooed victims; chocolate, flowers, and fancy laced letters to show their love.  As one observed in 1849, "Saint Valentine's Day... is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday.”.  Like always, the United States of America one step behind jumped on the Valentine card frenzy around 1847 starting in Massachusetts.  Within a few years the whole civilized culture was celebrating Valentine’s Day as if they had always been so, and just as quickly forgot why they were doing it.

Cupid (known to the Greeks as Eros or Amor both which means ‘love’) originates as Roman mythology.  Cupids name literally means ‘desire’, which epitomized his role in both Greek and Roman mythology wherein he is the God of sexuality and beauty. Cupid is usually portrayed as a nude winged youth, or child.  He was known to cause people to fall in love by shooting (or throwing) his magical arrows at them
 Cupid is the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.  Venus was jealous that a mortal princess called Psyche (meaning soul) was infatuating the peoples mind so much that they were forgetting to worship her.  Venus sent her son to put a stop to this, but cupid soon fell in love and by and by married Psyche who became a Goddess as well.
 The connection to this mythological creature to Valentine’s Day is simply by natural Association.  His character resonates so well with the commercial portrayals of Valentine’s Day that he has come to be associated with it, the time when this association took place is unknown to me. 

Valentines' Day Cards
As seen and explained in the above “Valentinian Evolution” and “The Valentine Card and the EXPLOSION of Love`` portions, Valentine’s Day cards originated in England during the popularization of Valentine’s Day.

Roses have always been the subject of great importance and a certain hit with the lovers all around the world. Roses symbolize love, compassion, peace, friendship and romance. They are available in various colors, each in turn signifying a different thing. Red for passion, Yellow for friendship and White stands for true love and devotion.

The Heart in literature and in art does not so much have to do with your biology as it does your passions.  It is a symbol of who you consciously are. Hearts are also given to symbolize ones love being given exclusively to another or to give one's existence to another. Hearts pierced with arrow forms the most important symbol of Valentine’s Day and can have various meaning from sexual fulfilment, to the sting of love.

                Birds, Love Birds, and Doves

            Birds have long been a symbol of souls, they represent the dreams of mankind,  a fascination that man has.  The flight which is so effortless to these winged animals eludes and allures us,  we desire it,  as an escape, as a freedom, Birds represent natural, spiritual and free man .

Lovebirds are social and affectionate small parrots. Often used in English they are so named for their affectionate attitude and mannerisms, they groom each others and date for life (up to 15 years); such dedication is hoped for inhumanity and is a symbol of commitment and affection for their human counterparts. Lovebirds were also commonly used in English weddings where their symbolism was further established.

            An interesting belief about birds and Valentine’s Day is the belief that birds find their mates on Valentine’s Day.  This is believed to have stemmed from the writings Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Parlement of Foules” (1382) which states:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys dayWhan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”["For this was sent on Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."]

Ironically many now believe that the Valentine’s day that Chaucer referred to was not February 14th, nor in celebration of the afore mentioned Valentines but rather a different Valentine altogether.

 Doves signify purity, peace, humility, and wholesomeness.
Alternatively swans are also a common sign for affection in the bird species.

                 Love Knots
     There is a custom of sending love knots, which custom originally was from Arabic traditions wherein young Muslim Women in traditional and orthodox households displayed their love through the giving of love knots. They would send their messages to their beloved one's woven in the knots of a carpet. 
Later, the Dutch sailors adapted this and tied ``love knots`` to remind them of loved ones back home.  Thus came the Celtic and the Dutch Love knots. 
Knots in general represent fastening of two ends, implicitly we can see that a knot can represent a relationship where two people are intertwined to become stronger.


Tephrochr said...

Nice, but no mention of Gamelion?

Lynden Jensen said...

Enlighten us

Tephrochr said...

Sorry, I get no notifications, it's just a fluke that I saw you had responded.

It's a month in one of the Hellenic calendars that celebrated the marriage of Zeus and Hera. All the months were specific to religious celebrations, and this Hellenic month would have fallen between our current months of January and February.

cheryl j said...

Very interesting background. As a side note, I think there may be a small typo. If Valentine of Terni was born 175 BCE he would have been nearly 400 years old when he became a bishop in CE 197


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