ST. VALENTINE’S DAY

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ST. VALENTINE’S DAY

Increasing there are more and more people that think and believe that St.  Valentine’s Day was created by the greeting card industry as a way to sell greeting cards and promote giving gifts to a loved one.   This school of thought is so bogus.  Since Valentine’s Day is almost here, I am sharing an insight into some of the history and traditions about how the holiday began.

Saint Valentine’s Day, also known as Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is observed on February 14th each year. It is celebrated in many countries around the world, although it remains a working day in most of them.

St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus.   Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines that belonged to February 14, and added to later martyrologies.  A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.   According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.  Today, Saint Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion, as well as in the Lutheran Church.  The Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates Saint Valentine’s Day, albeit on July 6th and July 30th, the former date in honor of the Roman presbyter Saint Valentine, and the latter date in honor of Hieromartyr Valentine, the Bishop of Terni. In Brazil, the Dia de Sao Valentim is recognized on June 12.

The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines“). Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid.  Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine.  The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni.   Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 496 and was buried on the Via Flaminia.  The relics of Saint Valentine were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which “remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV. The flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Other relics are found at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland. Valentine of Terni became bishop of Terni about AD 197 and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian.  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.  “Abstracts of the acts of the two saints were in nearly every church and monastery of Europe.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him. Saint Valentine’s head was preserved in the abbey of New Minster, Winchester, and venerated.

February 14 is celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day in various Christian denominations; it has, for example, the rank of ‘commemoration’ in the calendar of saints in the Anglican Communion.  In addition, the feast day of Saint Valentine is also given in the calendar of saints of the Lutheran Church.  However, in the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Church Calendar of Saints, the feast day of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”  The feast day is still celebrated in Malta, where relics of the saint are claimed to be found, and also throughout the world by Traditionalist Catholics who follow the older, pre-Second Vatican Council calendar. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated on July 6th, in which Saint Valentine, the Roman presbyter, is honoured; furthermore, the Eastern Orthodox Church observes the feast of Hieromartyr Valentine, Bishop of Interamna, on July 30th

It has been written in The Dictionary of Christianity, that Saint Valentine was “a priest of Rome who was imprisoned for succouring persecuted Christians.”  Contemporary records of Saint Valentine were most probably destroyed during this Diocletianic Persecution in the early 4th century.   In the 5th or 6th century, a work called Passio Marii et Marthae published a story of martyrdom for Saint Valentine of Rome, perhaps by borrowing tortures that happened to other saints, as was usual in the literature of that period. The same events are also found in Bede’s Martyrology, which was compiled in the 8th century. It states that Saint Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer Asterius. The jailer’s daughter and his forty-four member household came to believe in Jesus and were baptized.  A later Passio repeated the legend, adding that Pope Julius I built a church over his sepulcher (it is confusion with a 4th-century tribune called Valentino who donated land to build a church at a time when Julius was a Pope).  The legend was picked up as fact by later martyrologies, starting by Bede’s martyrology in the 8th century. It was repeated in the 13th century, in Legenda Aurea.  The book expounded briefly the Early Medieval acts of several Saint Valentines, and this legend was assigned to the Valentine under February 14.

There is an additional embellishment to The Golden Legend, which according to Henry Ansgar Kelly, was added centuries later, and widely repeated.  On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he would have written the first “valentine” card himself, addressed to the daughter of his jailer Asterius, who was no longer blind, signing as “Your Valentine.” The expression “From your Valentine” was later adopted by modern Valentine letters.

Some historians state that Saint Valentine was buried in the Church of Praxedes in Rome, located near the cemetery of Saint Hippolytus.  This order says that according to legend, “Julia herself planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Today, the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.”

Anther embellishment is that Saint Valentine would have performed clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry.  The Roman Emperor Claudius II supposedly forbade this in order to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers.  However, this supposed marriage ban was never issued, and in fact Claudius II told his soldiers to take two or three women for themselves after his victory over the Goths.

According to legend, in order “to remind these men of their vows and God’s love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment”, giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians,  a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine’s Day.

Saint Valentine supposedly wore a purple amethyst ring, customarily worn on the hands of Christian bishops with an image of Cupid engraved in it, a recognizable symbol associated with love that was legal under the Roman Empire; Roman soldiers would recognize the ring and ask him to perform marriage for them. Probably because of the association with Saint Valentine, amethyst has become the birthstone of February, and it’s thought to attract love.

While the European folk traditions connected with Saint Valentine and St. Valentine’s Day have become marginalized by the modern Anglo-American customs connecting the day with romantic love,, there are some remaining associations connecting the saint with the advent of spring.

While the custom of sending cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts originated in the UK, Valentine’s Day still remains connected with various regional customs in England. In Norfolk, a character called ‘Jack’ Valentine knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets and presents for children. Although he was leaving treats, many children were scared of this mystical person.

In Slovenia, Saint Valentine or Zdravko was one of the saints of Spring, the saint of good health and the patron of beekeepers and pilgrims.   A proverb says that “Saint Valentine brings the keys of roots”. Plants and flowers start to grow on this day. It has been celebrated as the day when the first work in the vineyards and in the fields commences. It is also said that birds propose to each other or marry on that day. Another proverb says “Valentine — the first spring saint”, as in some places (especially White Camiola); Saint Valentine marks the beginning of spring.   Valentine’s Day has only recently been celebrated as the day of love. The day of love was traditionally March 12, the Saint Gregory’s Day, or February 22, Saint Vincent’s Day. The patron of love was St. Anthony, whose day has been celebrated on June 13.

Popular modern sources claim links to unspecified Greco-Roman February holidays alleged to be devoted to fertility and love to St. Valentine’s Day, but prior to Chaucer in the 14th century, there were no links between the Saints named Valentinus and romantic love.  Earlier links as described above were focused on sacrifice rather than romantic love. In the ancient Athenian calendar the period between mid-January and mid-February was the month of Gamelion, dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

In Ancient Rome, Lupercalia, observed February 13–15, was an archaic rite connected to fertility. Lupercalia was a festival local to the city of Rome. The more general Festival of Juno Februa, meaning “Juno the purifier “or “the chaste Juno”, was celebrated on February 13–14. Pope Gelasius I (492–496) abolished Lupercalia. Some researchers have theorized that Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with the celebration of the Purification of Mary on February 14 and claim a connection to the 14th century’s connotations of romantic love, but there is no historical indication that he ever intended such a thing.   Also, the dates don’t fit because at the time of Gelasius I the feast was only celebrated in Jerusalem, and it was on February 14 only because Jerusalem placed the Nativity on January 6th.   Although it was called “Purification of Mary”, it dealt mainly with the presentation of Jesus at the temple.  The Jerusalem’s Purification of Mary in February 14 became the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple on February 2 as it was introduced to Rome and other places in the sixth century, after Gelasius I’s time.

Using the language of the law courts for the rituals of courtly love, a “High Court of Love” was probably established by princess Isabel of Bavaria in Paris in 1400. It was founded on 6 January, the festivity of a Bavarian Saint Valentin, with The Charter of the Court of Love.  The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading.  It was probably based on the poems of Grandson, and not on the poems of Chaucer.   It is possible that the actual Court never existed and that it was all an invention of the princess.

Valentine’s Day is even mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in Hamlet (1600–1601):

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5

Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th century.  The reinvention of St. Valentine’s Day in the 1840s has been traced by Leigh Eric Schmidt.   As a writer observed in 1849, “Saint Valentine’s Day… is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday.”

In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Elizabeth Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts.    Howland took her inspiration from an English Valentine she had received.  Intrigued with the idea of making similar Valentines, Howland began her business by importing paper lace and floral decorations from England.

Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.  In the UK, just under half of the population spends money on their Valentines and around 1.3 billion pounds are spent yearly on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, with an estimated 25 million cards being sent.  The mid-19th century Valentine’s Day trade was a harbinger of further commercialized holidays in the United States to follow.

In the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates packed in a red satin, heart-shaped box. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewelry.

In the modern era, liturgically, the Anglican Church has a service for St. Valentine’s Day (the Feast of St. Valentine), which includes the optional rite of the renewal of marriage vows.  Valentine’s Day customs developed in early modern England and spread throughout the Anglosphere in the 19th century.

In the later 20th and early 21st centuries, these customs have also spread to other countries along with other aspects of American pop culture,  but its impact so far has been rather more limited than that of Halloween, or that of US pop-culture inspired aspects of Christmas.

Kathy Kiefer

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