Valentine’s Day: Who is The Man, The Myth, The Dilution of Traditions?

Who is Saint Valentine?

Saint Valentine (Latin – Valentinius) is a widely recognized third-century Roman saint commemorated on February 14 and associated since the High Middle Ages with the tradition of courtly love. But of course nowadays the celebration of his feast day is overshadowed by petty commercialism and the suggestion for men to take this opportunity in hoping women are mindlessly adherent to social conventions and displays of contrived romance. Upon reception of a card and gift, be it chocolates or flowers, he will have the rare opportunity to pursue ‘avenues less explored’ in an intimate relationship *cough*youknowwhatImean*cough*. If I am honest I am surprised Durex has not had a big campaign this year like they have recently. Perhaps due to the release of the ’50 Shades of Grey’ film they felt it was redundant to do so. Certainly BBC Breakfast this week seemed a little too interested in the film and speaking of it as if it were a social phenomenon rather than just a rather popular, if universally acknowledged as weakly written, bit of saucy literature in the tradition of works like ‘Moll Flanders’, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and many other scandalously erotic (to their contemporary audience) classics of English literature.

So here we will just breakdown who the saint is in a sort of quasi-bullet point info dump for easy reading and comprehension.

Name: Saint Valentine
Rank: Bishop and Martyr
Born: unknown
Died: Traditionally ca. 269
Venerated in: Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Western-Rite Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, Lutheranism, and individual protestant churches including Baptist
Feast: February 14 (Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Churches) or July 30 (Eastern Orthodox Church)
Attributes: birds; roses; bishop with a crippled or a child with epilepsy at his feet; bishop with a rooster nearby; bishop refusing to adore an idol; bishop being beheaded; priest bearing a sword; priest holding a sun; priest giving sight to a blind girl.
Patronage: affianced couples, against fainting, bee keepers, happy marriages, love, plague, epilepsy.

So those attributes are quite interesting… you don’t hear mention of most of those if you asked someone what they associate with him in secular coverage. Certainly he has epilepsy as one of his ongoing concerns it seems. Birds seem to be one of his iconographic symbols although I tend to associate them far more with St Francis of Assisi though you could easily say birds as symbols of communing with the divine is a universal image.

All that is reliably known of Saint Valentine commemorated on February 14 is his name and that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian bridge to the north of Rome on that day. It is uncertain whether St. Valentine is to be identified as one saint or the conflation of two saints of the same name. Several different martyrologies have been added to later hagiographies that are unreliable.

…So we don’t know very much and what we did know is more based on the mythology which has evolved than the man himself. If anything he is even more fictionalised then than Saint Nicholas as Father Christmas…

Because so little is known of him, in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church removed his name from the General Roman Calendar, leaving his liturgical celebration to local calendars. The Roman Catholic Church continues to recognize him as a saint, listing him as such in the February 14 entry in the Roman Martyrology, and authorizing liturgical veneration of him on February 14 in any place where that day is not devoted to some other obligatory celebration in accordance with the rule that on such a day the Mass may be that of any saint listed in the Martyrology for that day. Use of the pre-1970 liturgical calendar is also authorized under the conditions indicated in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of 2007. Saint Valentine’s Church in Rome, built in 1960 for the needs of the Olympic Village, continues as a modern, well-visited parish church.

…’we have nothing better to put on that day so why not give it to Saint Valentine?’ seems to have been the logic applied then…

Saint Valentine’s Day, the Feast of Saint Valentine, is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion, as well as in the Lutheran Church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine the Presbyter of Rome is celebrated on July 6 and Hieromartyr Valentine (Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Italy) is celebrated on July 30. Notwithstanding, because of the relative obscurity of these two saints in the East, members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) may observe their name day on the Western ecclesiastical calendar date of February 14.

The name “Valentine”, derived from valens (worthy, strong, powerful), was popular in Late Antiquity. About eleven other saints having the name Valentine are commemorated in the Roman Catholic Church. Some Eastern Churches of the Western rite may provide still other different lists of Saint Valentines. The Roman martyrology lists only seven who died on days other than February 14: a priest from Viterbo (November 3); a bishop from Raetia who died in about 450 (January 7); a fifth-century priest and hermit (July 4); a Spanish hermit who died in about 715 (October 25); Valentine Berrio Ochoa, martyred in 1861 (November 24); and Valentine Jaunzarás Gómez, martyred in 1936 (September 18). It also lists a virgin, Saint Valentina, who was martyred in 308 (July 25) in Caesarea, Palestine.

Lots and lots of Valentine’s exist! Take your pick and if you are named Valentine, in the masculine or feminine form, then it’s a good excuse to have a party. I don’t mind that as much as the ‘day of obligatory romantic gesturing’ that it has become to many now in secular society as ‘just a bit of fun’ or blatant excuse for an argument.

So what is St Valentine’s Day then?

English 18th-century antiquarians Alban Butler and Francis Douce, noting the obscurity of Saint Valentine’s identity, suggested that Valentine’s Day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia (mid-February in Rome) although many more recent researcher have dismissed this idea. Many of the current legends that characterize Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love.

Professor Jack B. Oruch charges that the traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day”, documented in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, did not exist before Chaucer. He argues that the speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-century antiquaries, notably Alban Butler, the author of Butler’s Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. In the French 14th-century manuscript illumination from a Vies des Saints, Saint Valentine, bishop of Terni, oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni; there is no suggestion here that the bishop was a patron of lovers.

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”).

In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart”, as well as to children, in order to ward off Saint Valentine’s Malady (fainting, epilepsy and other seizure disorders). The charm usually takes the form of a metal key and is commonly used in the province of Padua, Italy.  It was once common in southern Germany, eastern Switzerland, Austria, and northern Italy to appeal to him to heal fainting, epilepsy and seizure disorders, thus they became known for this reason as Saint Valentine’s affliction.

In a ceremony at the Oratorio di San Giorgio, a small chapel in Monselice, Padua, on Saint Valentine’s Day each year, small golden keys are given to children to ward off epilepsy 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. During the Middle Ages it was believed that birds paired couples in mid-February. This was then associated with the romance of Valentine. Although all these legends may differ in ways, Valentine’s day is widely recognized as a day for romance and devotion.


That’s not a comprehensive breakdown of who Saint Vantine was nor what Valentine’s Day is but hopefully it’s a bit more than we knew before today

I guess it’s a good enough excuse, if one be needed, to make romantic displays. However doing it on an assigned day makes the gesture, to my mind, hollow. Acts of true love, if such a thing could be defined, are small and personal not grandiose. I hope you enjoy the day if you celebrate it and if you are alone bear in mind, just as with Christmas, you shouldn’t let the saturation of the media beguile you into believing the image you are presented with is the norm. It is an ideal they use to compel you to be a compliant consumerist.

Shakespearean styled modern Essex banter would be an interesting thing to arise as a modern tradition. It would be a fun way for someone to write something funny, yet poetic, without the odd attitude which gets ingrained in people during school lessons where teachers cover very little, if any, poetry. I find that a sad matter and it is a vicious circle as each generation of teahcers influences the next generation until poetry is an alien concept along with things like philosophy. They are ‘soft subjects’ and ironically a more sciencetifically orientated education, in both the sciences but by creating ‘criteria’ to be achieved in the arts subjects has people more logical and by that extent more ‘cut-throat’ because people can objectify how muc or little harming others is detrimental to oneself. You get the achievement of high grades but it holds no value to you and is discarded as soon ad it is deemed non-essential. It is a vicious circle society wide devaluing having higher, non-personally orientated, goals. It gives rise to faux sycophants and a mercenary attitude in interactions. We are a generation of Othello’s Iago if you will…

Back to the point, they used to have a regular sketch involving ‘the only way is Shakespeare’ on ‘Live At The Electric’ on BBC3 but unfortunately what few videos there were seem to have gone now. I wish there was more use of this idea as it is quite funny to hear the modernised equivalents of Shakespeare’s use of language

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