It’s T-minus 7 days and counting until Valentine’s Day. It’s now less than a week before the big, cultural romance day. It has become such a cultural icon, I’m surprised it hasn’t been declared an official holiday!
My rocket-scientist Dad (hi Dad!) was wondering if I was going to blog about St. Valentine. I thought, of course I am, then realized I knew very little about St. Valentine. Research time!
As with most things related to church, history, and saints, everything around St. Valentine is not so straight forward. Why was I surprised?!?
So what do we know about St. Valentine? The name Valentine, whose Latin root, valens, means worthy, strong, powerful, was a common name in Rome during the third century. Not so surprisingly, there isn’t much known about him and there are at least three possibilities of this martyred person.
The first Valentine was a priest during the reign of Claudius II. He was imprisoned because he secretly married Christian couples and aided Christians in other ways. Claudius was on a persecution rampage against Christians and helping them was a capital offense. Claudius took a liking to Valentine, until he tried converting Claudius to Christianity, at which time he was beaten and stoned. When that didn’t kill him, he was taken outside the city and beheaded.
The other two, as best as I can tell, were buried around February 14 on the ancient Roman road Via Flaminia. Because there is virtually nothing on any of these martyred Valentines, the Catholic church “down-graded” their commemoration. In other words, the Catholic church wasn’t going to take away their sainthood, but would now just be commemorated instead of liturgically commemorated. Not that it makes much of a difference to most people.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I don’t consider martyrdom very romantic. So how did Valentine’s Day get associated with romance?
Raise your hands if you’ve read Chaucer? Canterbury Tales? I suffered through Chaucer in English Literature in high school and would never in a thousand years associated him with the romantic beginnings of Valentine’s Day! Chaucer is attributed as being the first to mention Valentine’s Day and romantic love in his poem Parlement of Foules (1382) written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of the 15 year-olds, King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia:
For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.
The High Court of Love was established in Paris on Valentine’s Day 1400. This court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women based on a poetry reading. Eek! Having your fate in the hands of a poem?!?
Which leads us to the birth of modern-era Valentine’s Day…the Victorian era! Paper valentines were so popular in England, they were mass produced in factories. Esther Howland is credited with introducing Valentine’s Day cards here in the United States.
It’s probably a good thing Valentine’s Day has become so commercialized. Otherwise we’d be left with the St. Valentine, the patron saint of engaged couples, bee keepers, and epileptics and protecting against fainting and the plague!