Monday, February 13, 2012


Ikon of St. Valentine
Note Red Garb of a Bishop Similar to St. Nicholas
Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

Tomorrow, February 14th, is Valentine’s Day… or more properly the Feast Day of St. Valentine. By the way, when we were growing up my friends and I still referred to it as SAINT Valentine’s Day. It seems that secular materialism has overtaken all of the historic religious celebrations. Consider this list, Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Halloween — once called All Hallows’ Eve, Thanksgiving and, of course, the King of commercialism, Christmas. The religious origins and deeper meaning of each of these days has been lost in the race to sell cards, candy, and related bric-a-brac. But I digress. 

In truth, very little is known about St. Valentine. He is described as a presbyter (priest) who was martyred in Rome and buried on February, 14th on the Via Flaminia north of Rome. The name, in Latin, Valentinus, is derived from the root word valens meaning worthy, strong, or powerful. Interestingly enough, the name Valentinus does not occur in the earliest lists of Roman martyrs.  

The origin of St. Valentine and how exactly many St. Valentines there were, remains a mystery. One opinion is that he was a Roman martyred for refusing to give up his Christian faith. Other historians hold that St. Valentine was a priest jailed for defiance during the reign of Claudius. Whoever he was, Valentine really existed because archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine. In the year 496 Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom, saying Valentine was among those “... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”
Antique Illumination of St. Valentine

The Catholic Church's official list of recognized saints, the Roman Martyrology, lists seven Valentines: a martyr (possible a Roman priest or Terni bishop) buried on the Via Flaminia (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). Valentine did not appear in the official Church calendar for centuries, however “Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome” remains on the list of saints proposed for veneration by Catholics. 
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine the Presbyter is celebrated on July 6, and Hieromartyr Saint Valentine (Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Italy) is celebrated on July 30. Clearly they are viewed as two separate people. Notwithstanding that, conventionally members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) celebrate their name on February 14th. 

The Nuremburg Chronicle states that Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned when caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding persecuted Christians. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner, at least until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor. Then the priest was condemned to death.

The Golden Legend, or  Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine, compiled about 1260 and one of the most-read books of the High Middle Ages, gives sufficient details of the saints for each day of the liturgical year to inspire a homily for the occasion. The very brief details of St. Valentine have him refusing to deny Christ before the Emperor Claudius in the year 280. One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer's blind daughter. A further legend says that on the eve of his death he penned a farewell note to the daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.”
Pompeii Frescoe of Adult Cupid with Physche
Most of the romantic lore surrounding Saint Valentine was invented in 14th Century England by Geoffrey Chaucer. In Chaucer's Parliament of Foules there is a fictional reference to old traditions, although no such tradition existed before Chaucer. These sentimental customs posing as historic fact, appeared in the 18th Century Butler's Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated by scholars ever since. In a 14th Century French manuscript, Saint Valentine, the Bishop of Terni, oversees the construction of a basilica. There is no suggestion that the bishop was a patron of lovers. 

Valentine greetings have a long history. The oldest known valentine still in existence was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Cupid's Transition from Adult to Baby Begins
In Great Britain, Valentine's Day became an official holy day under Henry VIII and began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th Century. By the middle of the 18th Century, it had become common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters.  

Americans also probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures. The Greeting Card Association says an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year.

A Victorian Image of Cupid

Somewhere along the line the cherubic Cupid entered the scene. Ask most people about Cupid and they’re apt to describe a cute, chubby cherub with wings and a bow. Cupid is, of course, a Roman God adapted from the Greek, Eros. In both cases they are winged entities and usually represented carrying a bow and arrows with which they inflict the sting of love. However, they were always depicted as virile young men rather than plump little babies. How and why this pagan God invaded the celebration of St. Valentine’s Feast Day is unclear. What is clear that this cutesy character first appeared in Victorian times and, like Santa Claus, found a place in the collective imagination. 

Looking ahead, on Wednesday we’ll have our monthly post in the Christian Writer’s Chain. On Friday we temporarily set aside other interests in order to concentrate on The Ancient Traditions and History of Lent and Easter. Our first post in this special series will deal with what was historically called Quinqagesima Sunday…the last Sunday in the Church calendar prior to Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.
Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 
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1 comment:

Debra Ann Elliott said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed the read.