On 14 February, we celebrate Valentine’s Day. You know, the day when we all send each other a card and declare our love and manage to snare the partner of our dreams. Or you forget, and then it’s the end of the game. That day, then.
You would almost think that Hallmark has created this day to give the disappointing card sales a new boost, but nothing is less true. We at NBRplaza found out for you.
The man, the myth, the legend
St Valentine’s Day takes its name from St Valentine, a saint from the Roman Catholic Church. The annoying thing is that there are a number of Saint Valentines and two of them are related to 14 February: St. Valentine of Rome and St. Valentine of Terni.
There are many legends around these saints, but few facts. And of these legends, only a few can be related to love and romance. And even those are hardly verifiable. The hagiography (description of saint’s life) of St. Valentine is rather meagre. We know that he was the martyr of some church. St Valentine of Rome was martyred in the year 496 and that of Terni a few hundred years earlier in 197. And because we know so little about the two men, their legends have more or less merged over the years. Hence, they also have to share their feast day.
The legend goes that Valentine was imprisoned by the Emperor of Rome. The daughter of his guard was blind and Valentine is said to have cured her of her illness. But he was also said to be in love with her and left a letter just before his beheading, declaring his love for her. The letter was closed with ‘your Valentine’.
Not so romantic detail
What is clear is that Valentine has been beheaded. Not very romantic, at least for him. If you would like to see that head, you can. It is in a box in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome. The head does have a beautiful crown of dried flowers. That’s for sure.
The question is, of course, what Valentine had done that landed him in prison. He was probably arrested for performing illegal marriages for Christians at a time when that was apparently not allowed.
Other relics are scattered around different churches in Europe. Your head in a box is probably not the best Valentine’s Day gift you can think of. We have therefore come up with much better idea for you.
Most of what we know about St. Valentine’s Day is legend and those legends all come from the same source: Geoffrey Chaucer, a medieval poet. His stories led to a revival of the holiday in the 14th century.
His poem ‘A Parlement of Foules‘, in which he describes a dream in which two little birds meet on Valentine’s Day and then reproduce, was particularly popular at the time. Much of the symbolism in the poems, which contributed to the traditions of Valentine’s Day, has not been described before. This suggests that Chaucer invented them and that he is at the origin of Valentine’s Day as we celebrate it today.
Whips & Chains?
Some traditions and festivities celebrated in mid-February have a long history, sometimes long before Catholicism. In Rome, for example, ‘Lupercalia’ was celebrated around health and fertility. During this celebration, the dark, dreary winter was chased away to allow spring to sprout. Seeds were planted in both the soil and the womb.
This culminated in the whipping of women’s hands by naked youths and the sacrifice of dogs and goats. This honoured the female wolves who had raised Romulus and Renus (you know, the founders of Rome). We think this is an excellent explanation for giving your loved one a ‘50 Shades of Grey set‘ for Valentine’s Day. The mating rituals back then were also quite special. Men and women were matched by drawing names from a jar. At least, that is what is whispered by evil tongues.
Historians do not agree that Valentine’s Day has anything to do with Lupercalia, because some customs are very different. That it happens to be about love and sex would be a coincidence. And the whips would just be a nice touch?
Want to know more about Valentine’s Day? Look at www.stvalentin.org.