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  • Valentine's Day

    victorian valentines day card
    Victorian Valentine's Day schmaltz

    The history of Valentines Day is somewhat obscure because several early Christian martyrs were actually named Valentine.  The first, Valentine of Terni, became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197, was martyred under the Emperor Aurelian and is buried on the Roman Via Flaminia.  The second, Valentine of Rome, was a Roman priest who was martyred around AD 269 by the Emperor Claudius II and is also buried on the Via Flaminia.  The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions a third Saint Valentine, executed in Africa along with a number of companions on February 14, year unknown.  Nothing is known about their lives or the deeds of any of these Valentines and the name "Valentine" (Priest Valentio) does not occur in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, compiled in AD 354.

    The church holiday of St. Valentine was established on February 14 by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496.  It is a common opinion that the Christian church may have decided to Christianise celebrations of the pagan fertility festival Lupercalia celebrated between February 13-15, by creating a feast day for one or more of the Valentines "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God".  

    Saint Valentine next surfaces in history when he/they appear in the Legenda Aurea, a medieval bestseller written around 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine.  According to this embellished version, St Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Emperor Claudius II in person, who attempted to get him to convert to paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and instead tried to convert Claudius to Christianity, resulting in his immediate execution by stoning and beheading.   However, it is in the hands of Geoffrey Chaucer during the Middle Ages that Valentines Day becomes inextricably associated with the concept of romantic love. In the poem Parlement of Foules, written in 1382 to honour the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, Chaucer wrote:

    For this was on seynt Volantynys day
    Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
    [For this was saint Valentine's day
    When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.]

    Chaucer and Valentines Day

    Since then, the legend of St Valentine has been further embroidered to ultimately portray Valentine as an heroic and rebellious priest who secretly performed marriage ceremonies against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II, who rather fiendishly wanted the young men of Rome to remain single in order to better swell the ranks of his armies. Valentine was arrested and thrown in jail and on the evening before his execution wrote the first ever "valentine", addressed to his jailer's daughter whom he had befriended and healed of blindness. It was a note that read (wait for it) "From your Valentine".

    St Valentine continued to make appearances in literature (Shakespeare's Hamlet and John Donne's Epithalamion are two notable examples) whenever a symbol for romantic love was required.  However the sending of valentines became very fashionable in nineteenth-century Victorian England and from there the practice quickly spread to America, at which time hand-made valentines as declarations of love were supplanted by mass produced greeting cards, a custom that has persisted to the modern day with the practice of exchanging cards now extended to romantic gifts such as roses and chocolates, and rather alarmingly in the United States, diamond jewellery.  This blatant attempt at comercialisation by the diamond industry was referenced in a Simpson's Valentines Day episode.  Apu attempts to woo his unhappy wife back with seven days worth of fantastic Valentine gifts, each one more spectacular than the last, prompting a mutiny by the other men of Springfield who feel that they have been made to look inadequate and cheap by his actions. 


    valentines day greeting
    Humorous and anti commercial at the same time

    According to the Greeting Card Association via Wikipedia, approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas.  Although we may never know the real story of the historical Valentines, their legacy of love and more importantly of sacrifice can inspire us today to be the best we can possibly be.


    smallest valentines day heart in the world

    The world's smallest (nano) valentine on the planet, observed and photographed by physicists at the Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory , is only 8 nanometers in size and made of palladium. Source: Daily Galaxy's Casey Kazan via PhysOrg.com


    References and Further Reading:  

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