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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Brother Door-Keeper and Brother Gate-Opener

In my town strange things happen… Let me begin not by telling you where the grotesques featured at the top of my blog come from. They are from the oldest church of the town, with the midnight cross, that overlooks the town and are for another time to discuss.
Let me first tell you of the clergy who frequent one of the churches on the edge of the town centre so you may better understand the people whom frequent this place at the end of the bridge.

Once it was a small cattle market town prone to flooding, as all low lying land is, and nothing more than a pleasant wayside stop gap for those journeying between the whitewashed capital and the major Western port city where a poet once lived and is forever immortalised for his debauchery more so than his words. This town, my home town, is no longer such a place and many have doubted it ever was except in rose tinted memory. Now it is a sprawling cesspit of various architectural styles, built one on top of the other, with no unified design,: Georgian, modern, gothic, 1980s Avant-garde, red brick, black tar, sandstone and slate, concrete and cement like a mottled patchwork rag with equally disparate housing developments spreading like cancer into every crevice not yet rid of its greenery. No single parish council ever wished to concede to another, before or after, and so the town is a homunculus writhing in its own filth screaming to be put out of its misery. But it cannot anymore because too many have staked their claim and now find they are held within its grasp.

There is a church on the edge of town, the youngest of the three, with large iron gates and ivy covered trellis. A sandstone wall stops anyone looking in on the church’s grounds and slick black burglar-proof paint sits ever ready to stop people climbing over it. Behind this fortification two men, dressed in the dour cassocks of their faith, sit on three legged wooden stools in the courtyard under the dappled light of a tree. Neither is exceptionally young nor old but of an age that would suggest authority, knowledge and above all wisdom has been gained with the passage of time.
Brother Door-keeper, who speaks in husky tones, and Brother Gate-opener, whose voice is a lilting warble, while away their hours giggling between themselves furtively. One holds a heavy iron gate-padlock and the other the key with which to unlock it. Listening carefully at the wall you may hear this conversation repeated time and time again:

“Brother door-keeper has a lock…”
“…And Brother Gate-Opener, a key, a key which fits into this lock I have upon me.”
“It is an impressive key to look upon is it not Brother Door-Keeper?”
“Indeed as surely must this padlock be too to the uninitiated. But please be gentle, my dear Brother Gate-Opener, when you insert your key. I doubt my frail clasp may withstand such a forceful insertion as this key is capable of.”
“Fear not Brother Door-Keeper. I have been commended on the delicacy with which I handle this shaft I hold in my hand.”
“Then do as you must Brother Gate-Opener. Penetrate the hallowed darkness of this lock’s sanctity. I feel there is no choice for us now but to proceed apace…”
“I shall do so Brother Gate-Keeper with your blessing, but be reassured, you are in seasoned hands… the insertion may cause some discomfort but, be confident, it shall be only momentary…”
“Brother Door-Opener!”
“Brother Gate-Keeper!”
“Oh, Brother Door-Opener!”
“Ah, Brother Gate-Keeper! Do you feel the sweet release?”
“The unveiling Brother Door-Opener is indescribable!”
“Let me mop your brow Brother Gate-Keeper!”
“Oh that you would, Brother Door-Keeper, that you would…”

It is for this reason no one visits this church. They are silly people and perform this pantomime every single time the grounds must be opened be it Sabbath, a saint’s feast or any other Holy day. Celibacy truly is a heavy vow to have undertaken and they must find such little release in their duties through such innuendo…

But they are, I assure you, a friendly pair who would happily chat and help any who would seek it…unlike those missionary sisters whose church of the midnight cross overlooks the town. But that is a story for another day…


This was not the story I was going to write but in the end I decided to adapt an idea I had in an old notebook just to gauge if there is any validity in the idea. An unpolished piece by anyone’s estimations but the core humour of it is there and considering it consisted only of the concept of two celibate monks being sexually frustrated and acting out using a key and lock I think it went okay… Next time I may do a review of something just to keep mixing it up. Then I will hopefully write about those macabre missionaries mentoned above as they were in a short story, which got positive feedback, though I will have to adapt them for a blog vignette and may have to split it into about 3 seperate posts.

My intention with the ‘In My Homtown Strange Things Happen…’ series is to practise a bit of creative writing inspired by different bits of the town and surrounding area. With each fantastical story will be a short piece underneath about the real life locale.

There are actually three churchs in the vicinity of the towncentre, St Illtyd’s (which does overlook the town on top of a hill with a cross lit up, in the winter, on its bell tower), St Marys, and the recently constructed Catholic church.

http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/01/92/35/1923535_23526cc8.jpg

http://www.catholicchurchbridgend.org.uk/

The church in the story above is prehaps an overblown version of the Catholic one. The story in no way represents the actual church nor any of the people involved with it in any way. In truth the story came about independently of this place but I couldn’t think of a similar place to set the story and prehaps should have left it out of the series as an independant vignette as it came from a very brief story concept scribbled one day years ago and only typed up in one sitting just now. The two priests of the real place are quite young and I met them when attended a wedding once. Its a nice place but personally I have always preferred the older churchs and cathedral designs as they offer a sense of awe, as was the intent when built, and that you are in a special place. The modern design, in keeping with certain other very recently built locations around town, seems all too modern and I wonder how soon it will be that we will look back at it as modern generations do now the concrete tower blocks and awkward designs of the 1960s?

Feedback and comments are welcome.