Today is the feast of Saint Valentine and…oh what’s that, you have never heard “Saint” put before “Valentine” and thought that the namesake of the day was taken from a scorned, 20th century actor named “Valentino”? Well pull up crate of candy samplers and lend an ear. Like many of our traditions or rather the customs we have witnessed that produce positive results, Saint Valentines day has its origins in Christianity.
Valentinus as he was known to his Roman mates lived in the third century during the reign of Claudius II. He was known to be a priest to early Christians, a wedding presider and comforter to those who were to be martyred. Valentinus was ordered captured by Emperor Claudius who is said to have taken a liking to the priest, that is until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor to Christianity. Valentinus was stoned and then beheaded on the 14th of February 269. By the 4th century he had been canonized and had a church named for him.
In medieval times February 14th was a special day not just because of St Valentine but because birds were first observed mating on the day. Soon, poets like Chaucer began using the name Valentine in conjunction with courting, writing (sic)“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”.
By the 14th century the day was used to deliver love letters or consecrate marriages and here we find the first use of St Valentine as pillow talk from an English virgin named Margery Brews to future husband John Paston in 1477. “Unto my right well-beloved Valentine John Paston, squire, be this bill delivered.”
Of course like most things formerly grounded in Christianity, few people ever say “Happy St Valentines Day” and while you may get an email or Tweet sent out of guilt or fear of being clubbed by a frying pan, the mystique of Saint Valetinus has been replaced by chocolate covered strawberries, flowers and giant “Teddy bears”.
Let me be the first then to wish you, in the Catholic sense of the word, Happy Saint Valentinus Day and may God be with ye which is of course when translated into evolved 20th century speak “Here’s the flowers UPS delivered for you, goodbye”.