Monday, February 11, 2008


This Thursday is St. Valentine's Day, the second most profitable day of the year for greeting card manufacturers, after Christmas. The US. Greeting Card Association estimates that about 1 billion Valentine`s Day cards are sent each year, 85% of them purchased by women. This day also accounts for 12% of chocolate sales and 25% of flower sales in the USA, according to a Jan. 20, 2008 posting on the Money and Values blog.

Details on who, or who in the plural (see later in this blog), St. Valentine was are rather sketchy. Some suspect that St. Valentine`s Day was an invention set up to christianize the old festival of Lupercalia. This was a Roman festival held each year from February 13 to February 15 celebrating the she-wolf who suckled the orphans Romulus and Remus who founded Rome. The centrepoint of this festival was the Luoercal Cave, beneath the Palatine Hill in Rome. The ceremonies were directed by the Luperci (the "brothers of the wolf"), priests of the god Faunus (a Roman equivalent of Pan) dressed in goatskins. It began with the sacrifice of two male goats and a dogs, and then two young patricians were led to the altar to be smeared with the blood of the sacrifices, probably as a remnant of earlier human sacrifices at the festival.

A feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs called Februa from the skin of the sacrifices, drerssed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed gaots and ran around the presumed walls of the old Palatine city. While doing this they used the thongs as whips to strike onlookers. Females who were so struck were supposedly granted fertility and would have easy childbirths. The festival was eventually abolished by Pope Gelasius (494-96) who instituted the feast of St. Valentine in its place.

Who St. Valentine actualy was is rather unclear. His name doesn't appear in the earliest list of Roman martyrs compliled in 354. The Catholic Church's official Roman Martyrology lists no less than seven Saint Valentines. Of these three may have been the original. One was a Roman priest, another a bishop of Interamna (near modern Terni in Italy) and a third was a man who was martyred in the Roan province of Africa. The dates of the supposed deaths vary according to source. 269, 270 and 273 are all mentioned. In 1969 his commememoration was removed from the official Roman Catholic list of saints for universal veneration. Despite this he still remains venerated locally in places where his relics are supposedly housed. The relics...well, if the original St. Valentine may have been three different people his relics total up to far more. Places that supposedly house his relics include Terni in Italy, St. Praxedes in Rome, Balzan in Malta, the parish Church of Chelmo, Poland, Sts. Peter and Paul in Prague, the Iglesia de San Anton in Madrid, John Duns Scotus Church in Glascow, Whitefriar Church in Dublin, Roquemaure in France, Stephansdom Church in Vienna and the Birmingham Oratory in England. If St. Valentine were the patron saint of love songs his signature tune would be..."I'm in pieces, bits and pieces". For those with a taste for this sort of thing check out the Gazeteer of Relics and Miraculous Images site. Might as well go for a miraculous healing while you're on vacation.

In contrast to the lack of historical facts there are no end of legends about St. Valentine, many of them of quite modern invention. The earliest medieval version of the Valentine legend was mentioned by the Blessed Bede who exerpted his story from accounts first written in the sixth or seventh century. According to this version Valentine was a Christian arrested by Emperor Claudius II in the year 270 (see confusion of dates above) and personally questioned by him. The accounts make no mention of Valentine as a patron of romantic love. The story was later taken up and embellished by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, in his Legenda Aurea. Published in 1260, this compellation of biblical personages and Christian saints became one of the most read books of the high Middle Ages. Emperor Claudius II (also known as Claudius Gothicus for his victory over the Goths) had little time to attend to non-military matters in his brief reign, one that was entirely taken up by military campaigns, and the legend of the meeting of the two men is doubtful. Jacobus added the legend that Valentine cured his jailer's daughter of blindness before his execution.

Still later additions to the legend by other writers invented a love affair between Valentine and this jailer's daughter, and the story of how he sent her a letter the night before his execution signed "From your Valentine". The idea that the Emperor had banned marriages in Rome because he thought that unmarried men made better soldiers and that Valentine, as a priest, defied this banned by secretly marrying couples was another embellishment that gradually became transmuted into the idea of a patron saint of romantic love. In actual fact most of the Roman armies at this time were recruited from barbarians, and very few recruits came from Rome itself. Another twist of the story has people leaving Valentine little notes, folded up and hidden in cracks in his prison cell (the first "Valentines") that he would find and then offer prayers for the senders. As the Valentine legend developed he became the patron saint of lovers, bee keepers, greeting card manufacturers !, happy marriages, love, engaged couples, travellers, young people, and the plague !. His intervention was also requested against fainting.


Chaucer made his own contributer to the legend in his Parlement of Foules (1382) when he wrote a poem dedicated to the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, signed on May 2, 1381. This was the feast day of another St. Valentine, a bishop of Genoa who died around 307. The poem reads:

"For this was on seynt Volantynys day
When euery bryd comyth there to chese (choose) his make (mate)."

People asumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14th, even though mid-February is hardly a time for mating birds in England. May 2, however, the proper date for several reasons. The Medieval cult of romantic love soon took up the ball. The "High Court of Love" was proclaimed in Paris on St. Valentine's Day, 1400. This court dealt with love contracts, betrayals and violence against women. The judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading. The earliest written Valentine that survives was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife during the time he was imprisoned in England after his defeat at Agincourt. Valentine's Day is also mentioned by Shakespeare in Hamlet.

Valentine's Day began to take on more of its modern commercialized form during the 1840s in the USA. The first mass-produced valentines in the USA were the invention of Esther Howland of Worchester, Massachusetts. Her father owned a book and stationary store, and she was inspired by an English valentine sent to her to begin making embossed paper lace cards. Before this time Valentine's Day cards were either hand made or, from the early 1800s in England, hand painted in black and white by workers in what were actually craft shops rather than true factories. These early cards had evolved from a more religious tradition of Valentine's cards. The origin of the Valentine heart probably comes from the sacred heart of Jesus, and Cupid developed from an accompanying angel.The practice of sending other gifts, such as chocolate, flowers and jewellry began as recently as the 2nd half of the 20th century. By cunning marketing certain industries succeeded in replacing the older custom of sending small, personally chosen gifts with the formalized set of "acceptable" gifts that took on the aura of "traditions" even though they were innovations. Earlier versions of Valentine's cards often had real lace rather than paper lace, but this was unsuitable for mass production and marketing. The introduction of the "penny post" during the Victorian era(1840) gave a tremendous boost to the new Valentine's cards business. It was no longer prohibitively expensive to mail cards, many cards, for all occasions. For more on the history of the Valentine's Day card see THIS ITEM.

No comments: