The Faithful Wellspring

Reintroducing the Faith to the St. Tarcissus Parish Community


“I claim there ain’t
Another Saint
As great as Valentine.” ~Ogden Nash

 
St. Valentine’s Day. The day when all lovers of the world unite to (re)connect with their partners–married, engaged, courting, or wish-to-be courting–to (re)state their admiration and affections towards them. Women will get showered with gifts of various kinds; whether they be a bouquet of roses–perhaps if you’re a maverick you’ll get her flowers that she particularly enjoys–along with a heart-shaped box of chocolates that’s attached to a teddy-bear or another plushie (maybe none at all as there are too dang many from all the years past, amirite?). And a card will be presented as well: a written testament to the bond(s) you two share between each other. It is, to say the least, a truly “love-filled day”. But lost in all these pleasantries and pageantries is the actual person(s) whose namesake it retains (at least so far). Who was St. Valentine’s? Why do we celebrate him, especially in the way(s) we’ve become accustomed to? Did he even exist? As with most things of antiquity, this is a bit difficult to answer in a concrete manner. But with this said, however, I will, similarly as I have done with the issue(s) of the Crusades and Inquisitions, reiterate a series of facts that are (for the most part) agreed upon by various authoritative sources; both modern and older. In so doing, I hope it will enlighten some of you as to whom St. Valentines was; why we celebrate him the way(s) we do; and perhaps return the spotlight (or at least some of it) onto him.

“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” ~Henry Van Dyke

 

First and foremost, and akin to numerous other festivities that we celebrate nowadays, this one has its roots in ancient (pagan) Europe. Unlike Christmas or Easter, however, which were heavily-influenced, yet quite distinctive from, by pagan Roman traditions; this particular celebration predates Rome. In fact, it was widely-believed at the time of the founding of Rome, and henceforth thereafter, to the festival of Arcadian Lykaia of Ancient Greece and the worship of Lycaean Pan, who was the Greek God of sexuality (aside from many others). The Roman tradition of this same (or similar) rite was called Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15th,  and it was, specifically, dedicated to the Roman god Lupercus who was particularly associated with shepherds. An important sidenote or at least an interesting one; Luper, in Latin, means Wolf, which, as most of us know from the story of Little Red Riding Hood, are natural enemies of sheep and shepherds. The priests of Lupercus, who were known as Luperci and were noticeable by their goatskin vestiges, would stand outside their respective temples, termed Lupercals, completely nude except for a girdle made of goatskin and would whip girls and women to protect against sterility and ensure fertility. Shockingly, even pregnant women were whipped as it was believed it would aid in the actual delivery of said child.

It was only when Christianity, and St. Valentine specifically, was brought to the Empire that things began to change. St. Valentine, as one traditional retelling of the story goes (I’ll get to this a little further along), was a Catholic Priest during the reign of Claudius II: an Emperor who persecuted, as did many others, the Church during his reign. As a priest of the church, Valentine preached the sacredness of marriage between one woman and one man: an emphasis he was charged with proclaiming, especially within the Roman Empire where polygamy and various other debaucheries were not only permitted, but quite common amongst the various strata’s of society. Furthermore, Valentine, retaining a special edict within his possession to officially marry into the church any and all whom were interested, did so clandestinely as the Emperor had decreed that “no Roman soldier should marry,” as it was then hypothesized that unmarried soldiers would fight better. Nevertheless, Valentine continued his activities and achieved great successes in the process. Unfortunately, despite precautions and growing numbers of believers; he was (eventually) arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for crimes (specifically) against Claudius II, and thus the State as well. There are various tales, however, of Valentine’s exploits whilst in prison. Here’s an example of such an account:

“One of the men who was to judge him in line with the Roman law at the time was a man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind. He was supposed to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became Christian as a result.”

 

As a result of his preaching(s), actions, and faithfulness to the (Early) Church; Valentine, in the year 269 A.D., underwent a three-part execution, in which he was beaten, stoned, and decapitated. But, like I mentioned above, this is one of three such stories and each one has a wholly separate Valentine (or Valentinus). If you’re scratching your head and muttering, “three Valentines? How’s that possible?” Don’t worry. I’ll do my best to clear this up: emphasis on try. However, keep in mind just one simple item, all of these other potentiates were martyred (i.e., killed). Okay? Good. Moving on! The Catholic Church acknowledges three possible candidates for the Valentine we all have come to know; the above was but merely the first. Briefly, now, here are the next two contenders. Another Valentine is believed to have helped Christians to escape their brutal prisons where they were often beaten and tortured for their faith. The third, and final, Valentine was said to have been imprisoned and from there (or so the legend goes); he sent (the first) Valentine greeting card to a young woman, whom most-likely was his jailor’s daughter, he’d fallen in love with. It is said that before his execution, she had opened said letter in which it was signed, “From your Valentine.” Whether or not any or all of these stories are true; the archetype of Valentine is that he was sympathetic; heroic; and romantic.


“Must, bid the Morn awake!
Sad Winter now declines,
Each bird doth choose a mate;
This day’s Saint Valentine’s.
For that good bishop’s sake
Get up and let us see
What beauty it shall be
That Fortune us assigns.” ~Michael Drayton

The manner in which we transitioned from goatskin-thongs and whips to chocolates and roses is even trickier to establish than the origins of St. Valentine’s himself. It was only much later in history, specifically France and Britain, that Valentine’s Day became associated with courtly-love. And this due to the observation that birds seem to start mating on February 14th. Finally, the oldest surviving Valentine note was written, in 1415 A.D., by Charles d’Orleans (Charles, Duke of Orleans) to his wife Bonne of Armagnac whilst he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his defeat and capture at the Battle of AgincourtHenry V, or so it is said, ordered, several years after Charles’ original note, that a letter be written to Catherine of Valois. And, thus, a precedent was set. As usual, my fair readers, I hope this tiny romp through history, and back again, was enjoyable. Have a wonderful St. Valentines Day; take care; and God bless one-and-all!

Reflections

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