Monday, February 14, 2011

What's The Occasion? St. Valentine's Day


There have been many people called Saint Valentine - most of them martyrs in Ancient Rome - although none of them were deemed important enough to be mentioned in the Chronography of 354; it was Pope Gelasius I who first declared the Feast of St. Valentine in 469 CE - and about all we know concerning the saint being honoured by the day is his name and the fact that he was buried in Rome, on the Via Flaminia. And that there are at least two who fit that description!

Although first depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1463, St. Valentine is described as having been martyred during the reign of Claudius II when he was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians; the Roman Martyrology, published in 1583, only mentions the one Saint Valentine - the same one 'known' to us today.

Valentine's feast day, of course, just happens to fall during the ancient feast of the Lupercalia, so while there's no appreciable crossover of rituals between the two, the ancient festival was one dedicated to fertility and childbirth; the more strenuously Christians insist, however, that their holidays were not imposed upon the pagan ones in a concerted effort to quash the old ways the less likely I am to believe them, and I was never much inclined to believe them before. Needless to say, of all the saints' days venerated by the Roman Catholic Church, that one in honour of an obscure bishop who just happened to be martyred on an important Roman holiday is about the only one still observed by all and sundry* - including many non-Christians - is a bit of a coincidence I for one cannot let pass without a suitably snide remark...

The day really became associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages, during the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, as documented in his Parliament of Foules, and many subsequent 'scholars' merely backdated those associations to includes the figures and rites of Late Antiquity; no one knows quite when the day became associated with the persecution of single people, but most bets are on late in the 20th Century. Since the Lupercalia was observed with the slaughter of a goat, and since single people are currently being scape-goated for causing (among other things) global warming, perhaps the old ways and the new will once again unite when some loving couple somewhere will murder some pathetic single loser for ruining their expensive, chocolate-y day...

Only time will tell.

*Other than, of course, St. Patrick's Day!

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