Early I Know But: Will the Real St. Valentine Please Stand Up?

(Note: Being dusted off for another year.)

So according to Wikipedia there were a total of 16 St. Valentines until 1969. Yesterday was, ostensibly, to celebrate Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni, both martyred in the third century AD. This brings up a serious problem: I hate how I have to remember that the third century actually means the 200s. Ah well.

Now in 1969 the Catholic church pulled the plug on the churchwide celebration of St. Valentine’s Day on the 14th as a ‘feast day.’ I have no idea what a feast day is, mind you, but I’m not Catholic so I don’t think I’ll end up in Hell as a result of this ignorance. The reason given:

“Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

Additionally none of the St. Valentines honored on the 14th of February have anything to do with Romance until the 14th century, when distinctions between all three of them had essentially vanished. There are also stories of another St. Valentine that date to around the same time (that is: almost a thousand years after any of the actual St. Valentines had died) that have this new amalgam of Valentines debating the Emperor Cladius II in a theological wrestling match that ended up with Valentine being fed to lions or something. This raises a great point- don’t get into a debating match with a guy who has lions.

And in the first link between any of these Valentines (three at least historical and one entirely made up) is another imaginary Valentine, this one a priest with an interesting goal. According to this story (okay, lets just call them myths from now on) the priest rebelled against a decree by our old friend Cladius II that ordered men to stay single so they could serve in the army. Valentine performed illicit marriages against the law of the land and was executed for it. In what Wiki says was a later embellishment, Valentine actually wrote the first valentine (you know, the card you give out?) to what was either his love, the jailer’s daughter or both. Covering all the bases there.

The kicker here: the final line in the first valentine was: “from your Valentine.”

Cute, eh?

In a more pragmatic take: There was a Roman fertility rite celebrated during the month of February(it varied a bit in those days, according to a lunar calendar I believe) that the Church abolished under a pope named Gelasius I. You can’t just do away with a fertility rite that goes back hundreds of years at the very least so old St. Valentine gets dusted off and scores a day all his own, the hardliners in the Church can say they’ve stamped out a pagan ritual and the people who celebrate the pagan ritual can all be happy.

You have to be impressed with that kind of thinking, but the dude was named Gelasius which is kind of an evil genius/villain in a bad Science Fiction movie name.

In the Medieval period there was a High Court of Love which wasn’t a motown inspired singing group, but a noble court that had something to do with the legal intricacies of love related troubles. Like CSI:Romance if I’m reading things right, except that the judges were, I kid you not, selected based on their poetry.

It wasn’t until the 1840s that we got something like the holiday we have now, thanks to a writer for Graham’s American Monthly and an enterprising printer in sunny Worcester MA. Until the second half of the 20th century Valentine’s day was a commercial holiday for card printers only, but enter the wonders of commercialization and florists, candy makers and (in the 80s) diamond sellers got into the action. The internet has given us e-cards and love coupons, the latter redeemable for anything from a chaste peck on the cheek to a Cleveland Steamer.

God bless technology.

Now the practice of Valentine’s Day has mutated and spread across most of the developed world. There’s a Singles Awareness Day on the 14th, the insane chocolate giving rituals in Japan, a ‘Jack’ Valentine in England and some strange stuff going on in all those northern European countries that I think involves smoked fish and Black Metal.

Then there’s Hindu fundamentalists who engage in violent clashes with Valentine’s Day merchandisers, chase and beat couples in parks with batons and indulge in other extremely dick-ish behavior. Iran has a Valentine’s underground and the looniest-country-that-really-is-our-ally Saudi Arabia has a thriving black market in roses and wrapping paper after its ban on selling anything red on the 14th.

Isn’t history fun?


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