Happy February the 14th blog ! St Valentine’s Day! The patron saint of florists and chocolatiers. He is also the saint of love, engaged couples, young people, beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, plague, and travellers. So if you are a young bee keeper with epilepsy and need a bouquet to hide your infected buboes as you go on a journey to see your betrothed…. he’s your man.
It all seemed to be much more fun pre Christianity when the eligible men about town would run around dressed in the skin of a (recently) dead goat, whipping the backsides of young ladies with a thong of leather dripped in goat blood. Sounds like a normal Saturday night in Sauchiehall Street to me but in those days it was all in aid of fertility. Like an early form of IVF.
And in Sauchiehall Street, it still is.
In ancient Rome the 13th, 14h and 15th of February was a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia. Lupercus being the Roman god of fertility. And that has all to do with Romulus and Remus and having a wolf for your mother and other stuff Freud would have a field day with. I don’t think it too much of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that pope Galasius, being a good Christian, might have frowned on all this happiness and frolicking but was also very aware that the one way to encourage bad behaviour is to ban it.
So he simply absorbed it into the Christian calendar, much to the relief of greeting card companies all over the globe. The 14th of February has remained a celebration of love, but the fun aspect of being spanked on the backside by a drunk with a whip while running through the street has evolved somewhat. It was thought that a blow from the whip (a februa) encouraged fertility in woman. The festival was called Febraiatus, from the verb februare to purify… hence that month is called February.!!!!
So it was all about fertility, purity, immunity from curses, protection from bad luck and the encouragement of reproduction. No doubt there was also the sense that spring and sunshine might be on their way.
The identity of the Saint Valentine (s) actually celebrated on the 14th of February is open to all kinds of conjecture but you can take your pick and mix and match from four different possibilities to suit your own taste.
The one thing they have in common? They all died a brutal death…. Well who said love was good for you…
Valentine the first contender! Valentinus of Rome.
In the days of Roman emperor Claudius II, only single men got drafted into the army so the clever ones got married to avoid it. Valentinus was executed on 14th Feb (conveniently) for performing marriages so that young men could avoid the draft… Just to cheer him up young lovers would visit him as he sat on death row and told him how much better love was than war. Bet that put his mind at ease!
St Valentine, the second contender.
This one, Valentine of Rome was beheaded and buried on the Via Flaminina and Pope Julius 1st was supposed to have built a basilica over the grave. He was initially arrested for being Christian, and while in jail he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, who was blind. Valentine wrote her love notes, signed from ‘your Valentine’. This restored her sight and the jailor converted to Christianity.
The date of his execution? 14th February (conveniently).
Valentine, the third contender.
The Bishop of Terni, who I always think of as the front runner. Little is known of his life except that he was very amenable – dying conveniently on the 14th of February. His relics were taken back to Terni.
He was martyred in the reign of Emperor Aurelian by being imprisoned, tortured then beheaded on the Via Flaminia in Rome for his Christianity. This was by the order of a Roman called…. Placid Furius??? Who sounds so Monty Python he must be real.
Valentinus, the fourth contender.
This bloke was a gnostic teacher in Rome and had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, gnostism came to be regarded as heresy so Valentinus went out of favour slightly but he did argue that love and marriage was central to Christian belief. I think he can be disregarded as he did not have the good grace to die on the 14th of February and this shows some lack of effort on his part.
Moving forward in time, in 1382 Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about St Valentine's Day in celebration of the engagement of Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. By Valentine’s Day he probably meant the 2nd of May which is the saint's day in the liturgical calendar of Valentine of Genoa.
A few years after that the French seem to get in on the act and on 14th February a court opened in Paris to deal with matters of love, marriage, affairs, divorces etc. Then in 1415 after the battle of Agincourt, a Frenchman (well it would have to be!) wrote the first recovered Valentine’s note to his sweetheart. Charles, the Duke of Orleans was being held captive at the time. And probably had nothing better to do.
Two hundred years later Ophelia is harping on about Valentine’s Day to Hamlet who is out on a battlement ignoring her. This is starting to sound more familiar now.
Two hundred years later the passing of Valentine’s notes has become so common that the notes start to be mass produced in early form, a mixture of lace and paper, and we all know that this ends up with the rosy pink, satin sugar coated monstrosities with pictures of puppies with goitre that you can buy today.
Nowadays Valentine’s Day is the biggest card selling/sending event after Christmas.
As this blog also appears in Murder is Everywhere, it can’t really end without mentioning the Massacre. In 1929, Al Capone (allegedly) ordered that five gangster rivals were ‘taken out’, not in the out for dinner sense, more in the line them up against a wall and shoot them sense.
Somehow roaming naked through the streets drunk whipping your friends on the bum sounds so much more fun..
Caro Ramsay 14th Feb 2014