Friday, 14 February 2014

Who was St. Valentine?

It's Valentine's Day - aw!  Cue an outpouring of red & pink heart themed products, teddy bears and slightly awkward couples in restaurants eating overpriced, mediocre meals.

It has got me thinking though - who was St. Valentine and how did he get to give his name to such a commercial day?

It turns out that no one's quite sure who The Saint Valentine actually was.

There are two Valentines who were executed and subsequently martyred on February the 14th.  The first was a Roman priest who was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and eventually beheaded on February 14th in either 269,270 or 273.

The second Valentine was the former Bishop of Terni, (a city in what is now Umbria) who was beaten and beheaded on February 14th 269 for trying to convert the Emperor Claudius to Christianity.

Ok, but how did the anniversary of such violent deaths become linked to a day for lurve?

It turns out that our old mate, Geoffrey Chaucer had a hand in this.  In 1381 he wrote a poem called 'Parlement of Foules', (The Parliment of Birds) where Saint Valentine's Day is mentioned as the day when all the birds choose their mates for the year.

"And in a launde upon a hil of flowres
Was set this noble goddesse Nature;
Of braunches were hir halles and hir bowres,
Ywrought after hir cast and hir mesure;
Ne was ther fowl that cometh of engendrure
That they ne were alle prest in hir presence
To take hir doom, and yive hire audience.

For this was on Saint Valentines day, 
Whan every brid cometh there to chese his make"

A copy of the original poem is here and a modern translation here.

The idea of a special day devoted to love quickly caught on and before you know it, people were sending each other massive, luridly decorated, often padded cards declaring their feelings.

There is a story that the idea of Valentine's Day, as we celebrate it today, was started by Hallmark Cards to sell cards in that lull between Christmas and Easter but it's nothing more than an urban myth.  The introduction of the Penny Post in 1680 and cheap, mass produced cards meant that people have been expressing their desires via kitsch paper products for well over two hundred years.  Hallmark Cards was only started in 1910. 


Personally, I'm ambivalent about Valentine's Day.  On one hand, I can't help feeling that if you need a themed meal and a cheap card to affirm your relationship, you're in trouble.  On the other hand, the romantic in me likes the idea of a day devoted to love.

Whether or not you celebrate Valentine's Day, just enjoy it and for god's sake, don't do as a friend of mine did last year - get drunk and post a series of self pitying posts on Facebook saying that no one's ever going to love you because you're too ugly.



Thanks for the informative post :) Not into Valentine's Day, I'm afraid. It's just any other day for me, plus lots of overseas' friends birthdays :) Have a lovely one though if you something planned for tonight :)

Beautiful Things - Cathy said...

Hiya. No, I'm not really into Valentine's Day. The whole commercialisation and pressure to behave a certain way puts me off a bit. x


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