Who was Saint Valentine?

 

Wilt thou be mine? dear love, reply
Sweetly consent, or else deny;
Whisper softly, none shall know,
Wilt thou be mine, love? aye or no?

from Duke Charles of Orléans, Tower of London, England, 1415 A.D.

   What is the origin of our Saint Valentine's Day or the Día de San Valentín (also known as the Día de los emamorados) in Spanish? Just who was Saint Valentine, the patron saint of lovers? Historians and comparative lingüists are not entirely sure among which candidate (or candidates) throughout antiquity really was the true Cupid among ancient peoples. From the  late Latin februarius and then vía the Old French février comes the name of our month of February in modern English, or the "month of expiation or purification". This was in honor of the Roman festival of purification februa held on February 15th, their Lupercalia, commemorating young men's rite of passage to their God of fertility Lupercus, who watched over the shepherds of Rome against predatory lupus or wolves.

SAINT VALENTINE IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE

    The legendary Saint Valentine out of ancient times takes us back to the 3rd Century after Christ, around 270 A.D. He was a Roman priest or bishop who empathized much with young Roman centurions-to-be who were about to be drafted into military service. When the Roman Empire and legions needed soldiers to protect their ever-expanding territories beyond the Rubicon, Emperor Claudius the Second decreed that nobody could become engaged to be married! The domestic limelight and felicity of the hearth for young and able-bodied Roman boys was not to Claudius the Second's liking. The Holy Emperor had determined that married men made poor soldiers, so he banned marriage altogether from his Roman Empire. But, the loving and kind-hearted Valentine openly defied the Emperor's demand and married off many a young couple clandestinely by quiet candlelight in castle basements and wine cellars. Pope Gelasius also disapproved of Claudius' custom and decreed that a change be made, but to no avail. Since Roman Emperors were considered to be demi-Gods, Valentine's action was considered to be an act of outright treason against il Imperio Romano and defiance of heavenly law. But Valentine continued to marry young couples secretly just the same. When Claudius the Second  discovered Valentine's illicit activities, he first tried to convert him to Roman paganism. Ultimately, so the legend goes, Valentine was imprisoned and put to death by beheading on the vespers of the Feast of Lupercalia, on February 14, 270 A.D.

    Yet early church records indicate that a number of "Saint Valentines" during such a febrile season were beheaded and martyred on or around February the 14th. Another tale tells us of a different Valentine who was seized by authorities for having helped Christians escape the wrath of the tyrannical Claudius the Second. During his imprisonment, many Christians (who were being persecuted for their new faith at the time) came to visit him. They tried to convince the jailor of his sincerity with helping young people in love, as well as his sentiments against the senseless killing of young men. The jailor happened to have a beautiful, yet totally blind daughter. Upon hearing of this, it is said that Valentine performed a miraculous Divine healing and restored her sight! Though the pretty young lady's father, the jailor, insisted on Valentine's release from the confines of prison walls for his otherworldly deed, the upcoming saint was sent to the gallows for execution anyway by the cold, hard-hearted Claudius the Second. Valentine, before he was executed, wrote and passed a short note on to the jailor's lovely daughter, the first written Valentine, so the story goes, to be written in the world. It read:

"With love, from your Valentine".

      Valentine was beheaded on February 14th, on the eve of the all important Roman festival of the Lupercalia. It is indeed possible that Valentine's execution formed part of a series of entertainment activities for the Romans along with the persecuting of Christians and their being thrown into lion-filled pits for their having drawn the Roman youths away from their gods of Janus, Saturnus, and Solarus in favor of their newly discovered Savior. It is said, too, that on the evening of February 15, 270 A.D. during the Lupercalia celebrations, Roman youths drew names of young ladies who were to be their romantic partners or "dates" not only for that evening, but the girl thus chosen would become the sexual partner for that young man for the remainder of the year. This served a double purpose, for to draw the name of a saint would require that the boy or girl would have to emulate that saint's qualities for at least one year. This was dutifully performed in honor of their lovely goddess Juno Februata. And instead of a "pagan" God to be chosen, the Church searched for a suitable substitute saint to patronize the day. So, Saint Valentine was to become their chosen saint. Just how such a "romantic fusion" between Valentine's having saved loved ones from Claudius the Second's mighty military machine and the Lupercalia's choosing of sexual partners custom came about is a bit of a mystery. The Lupercalia festival was a surviving echo from former times when Rome (from the twin founders of the township Rómulus and Remus) was a more pastoral and bucolic Mediterranean principality. 

     Modern historians are somewhat in the dark regarding the origins of this festival. Even scholars out of the last century before the time of Christ had little historical facts and written records upon which to draw. Yet it is known for certain that Mark Antony (in love with Cleopatra?) was the headmaster of the Lupercali College of Priests and that he deliberately chose the Lupercalia festival of 44 B.C. to offer the crown to Julius Caesar, precisely one month before his assassination during the Ides of mid-March. Although the lottery for women had been banned by the church as "heathen", the mid-February holiday celebration in commemoration of St. Valentine was still practiced by many Roman men who sought the tender affections of willing young ladies. Thus, it became a tradition for a suitor to give a beloved or admired one a handwritten message of enamored, romantic intent with the name of Saint Valentine inscribed within.

 

CUPID IN GREEK AND ROMAN MYTHOLOGY

    Another personality associated with Saint Valentine's Day is Cupid, a smiling mischievous child armed with his bow and arrow ready to pierce lovers' hearts with romantic love. From the Latin verb cupere meaning "to desire" comes this Roman god of love. Originally from the ancient Sanskrit prefix kup- signifying "to become agitated", it passed through Old Church Slavonic's kypeti meaning "to boil", as in emotions. Also, from the Latvian kupet (to boil or steam) is suggested the notion of 'agitation' as well. From these intertwining lingüistic sources has derived the noun form of cúpido meaning "desire" or "yearning", eventually becoming the Roman god Cúpidus, an adjectival form meaning "desirous of". Then the name Cupid spilled over into our modern English. This in turn produced the noun form of cupiditus, perhaps vía Old French's couvert (covered or hidden) and ultimately the English verbal offshoot to covet. The English noun form of cupidity is a rarely used descendant. An even less likely term to be heard orally (but is occasionally read in literary works) is the Latin concupiscense, meaning "coveting".

    Long before the time of Saint Valentine, Cupid played a central rôle in the ancient Greek and Roman celebrations of love and mating, dedicated to lovers and lovemaking. The Greek version of Cupid was Eros: hence our term erotic. Eros was the son and constant companion of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty: thus our word aphrodisia. Yet another goddess of love existed among the ancient Romans, and she was Venus (from whence early astronomers named our second planet from the Sun). Venus, like Aphrodite, had a son and his name was Cupid, the impish archer and celestine "go-between" we know of today. Cupid came to represent the many aspects of love: playful, tender, sexual, and passionate. His invisible arrows of sweet destiny would pierce the hearts of both mortals and gods alike, making them fall hopelessly and helplessly in love, oftentimes beyond all hope or reason! A lovely myth has arisen out of Roman antiquity pertaining to Cupid and the mortal maiden Psyche. Green with envy and overly jealous of Psyche's eternal beauty, Venus ordered her son Cupid to reprimand and punish the fair maiden. Instead, Cupid fell madly, deeply, and passionately in love with her at first sight. He then carried Psyche away to a mystical castle in the clouds where he made her his bride, though she was still a mere earth-soul who was forever forbidden to look upon him since he was invisible to her mortal eyes. When her sisters paid her a visit in the castle of indolence while inquiring about her husband Cupid, Psyche eventually broke her promise and looked directly upon her lover. Cupid punished her by leaving and hence the mystical castle of love vanished into thin air. Determined beyond all measure to find and recapture her love once again, Psyche wandered and traveled far and wide in search of Cupid until she reached the temple of Venus. The angry and jealous goddess of beauty gave her a box containing the beauty of Prosperine, wife of Pluto of the underworld, not to be opened at all. Bewildered and 'agitated' beyond all hope, Psyche climbed a tall tower to throw herself off when she realized her submission to temptation: she opened the box against Venus' wishes. Instead of finding beauty inside the box, she found a deathly, ghastly slumber within! Falling high from the tower, Psyche was found lifeless by Cupid, who reawakened her with his loving arrow piercing her heart, reviving the young beauty to Life once again. Cupid then caressed and explained lovingly to Psyche that to discover the secret of the beauty of the Goddess of Love Venus was not for mortal human eyes to behold.

    Here is a Valentine's Day poem written by Joy Belle Burgess entitled The Valentine which captures the true flavor of this amorous holiday, encompassing the entire calendar year:

The valentine you gave to me
Is like a summer rose,
Aglow with all the warmth of love
And sweetness in each fold.
The treasured gift you gave to me
Is like a winter fire,
With words of love and thought and rhyme
That breathe of sweet desire.
The token fair you gave to me
Is like a spring bouquet,
Adorned with blue forget-me-nots
And ribbons bright and gay.
The valentine of frills and lace
Throughout the year will be
A most endearing gift because
You gave your love to me.

VALENTINES THROUGHOUT  EUROPE AND AMERICA

    Historically, St. Valentine's Day has spread around the globe while taking many interesting twists and turns. During the Middle Ages in Italy, a spring festival took place wherein youths met in gardens and exchanged flowers as a polite gesture in courtship. The French troubadours, who pranced the narrow cobble stoned streets of Medieval Europe with lute and flute in hand, often accompanied young couples to music while lovers called out each other's names from across open windows, atop high balconies. The oldest known Valentine in letter form was dated 1477 from a Margery Brews, written to her beloved John Paston. It read:

"Right worshipful and well beloved Valentine."

    Throughout most of Europe in the 1500s, much of the romantic holiday observance remained forgotten. Little supporting historical data has survived from that époch. But by the early 1600s, on  the date of February 14th of the calendar year, it was becoming customary for marriageable young ladies to place their names on paper in an urn in a public square. Eager young men and possibly future beaus then drew his "Valentine's" name from the urn in hopes of establishing a permanent romance. Somewhere along the line, however, the idea of allowing Fate to rule in matters of the heart turned unpopular, and many of these amorous lotteries were becoming "fixed". By 1610, the drawing of names from the urn soon became a light-hearted festivity, where both children and adults joined in. Come 1640, a fascinating little book appeared entitled Cupid's Messenger. It was filled with poetic verses and romantic sonnets in elegant language to help out the otherwise inarticulate suitor. By 1645, many of these erotic and amorous verses came to be published, thus instigating a new trend wherein Valentine's poems were shared more in publicly read articles, periodicals, and magazines. Robert Herrick of England wrote in 1648:

Choose me your Valentine,
Next let us marry.

    On St. Valentine's Day in 1667, Samuel Pepys described in his famous Diary a surprise Valentine he had received from his wife. It was handwritten, cut out with scissors, and had a love message inscribed on it in gold lettering against a soft blue pastel paper in a young child's script. This had paved the way and become the forerunner to our modern Valentines. By the 18th Century, Valentine's messages had found a home in both France and Germany. The Germans and Prussians had begun making fancy white lace borders and adding red hearts to be cut out and pasted onto the Valentine "card".  By the late 1700s, Cupid had somehow begun to appear, with his peevish grin and bow and arrow close at hand, on Valentine love letters and verses in England. It wasn't too very long after that when flowers, more hearts, love birds, smiling couples and more cupids were added to the agenda. During the last quarter of the 18th Century, the Germans contributed their Freundeschaftskarten, which were handmade friendship or lover's cards closely resembling the forthcoming Valentines of the upcoming 19th Century. Germans who were settling in the United States at this time introduced this particular form of greeting with its Baroque ornamental style ultimately spreading to other parts of the country, thus paving the way for our modern Valentines of embellished adornment. 

    By 1815, most of the rural towns and big cities throughout England had a Penny Post as their "postal service". February 14th was rapidly becoming a busy delivery day for the postmen all over the county. If the postman had passed by your house without having left a Valentine greeting of some kind, disappointed indeed remained the young expectant gallant or fair maiden. But during a brief period from 1820 to 1829, insulting Valentines were being circulated, but this custom quickly died out, most likely due to its unloving nature. These were the particularly popular Penny Dreadfuls which featured insulting rhymes and unflattering sketches, meant only for those platonic pals with more than simply a casual familiarity and, one would hope, with a well developed sense of humor. By 1840, a British Penny Post was set up for the entire United Kingdom, eventually lowering the cost not only of mail delivery service, but especially during Valentine's Day. This permitted a countrywide expansion in Valentine greetings being sent not only throughout all of the English countryside but also beyond England's immediate borders. 

    With the coming and subsequent reigning of Queen Victoria of England around 1837, the Golden Age of the English Valentine was ushered in. Specially handmade delicate and intricate paper designed specifically for Valentine greetings with space for handwritten, personalized messages came into vogue. White and pink lace, pasted cupids, doves, hand painted motifs, hearts pierced with darts (a favorite Victorian  English pub pastime), silk on satin, chiffon, and netted designs were beginning to become more common, reflecting the polished and refined qualities indicative of an ever more increasingly class conscious Victorian society at the time. Lacy styled Valentines reached their peak in popularity between 1840 and 1860 throughout the British Isles. Creativity and spontaneity painted a new dimension onto the Victorian Valentines. Cutouts, pinpricks, envelopes with hearts contained within (sometimes with the loved one's lock of hair inside), anagrams, puzzle purses, and even Valentine cheques to be drawn against the Bank of True Love with real five-pound notes were hidden inside. Though it was somewhat costly, Valentines greeting and love notes finally began to cross the Atlantic Ocean, with the United States and Canada becoming their ultimate destination. 

THE CIVIL WAR ERA

    During the Civil War in the States between the North and the South, many a lonely, crestfallen soldier had Valentines made with a heart split in two, reflecting their loved one's absence and their longing for home. For troops encamped in tents, flaps were made onto the Valentine to reveal a soldier inside (the tent) awaiting his sweetheart with open arms. This became the window Valentine. During times of peace, the window opened instead into a church with a smiling bride and groom within! Another Civil War novelty Valentine, circa 1862, included a real lock of hair from the distant girlfriend, which the military man proudly treasured and shared with his fellow soldiers. Other Valentines to have survived the Civil War were the paper doll variety and elaborate white lace embroideries.

    Then, Puzzle Purses appeared on the Valentine's Day scene: They were square envelopes, the four flaps of which were folded one inside the other. Each flap was doubled over and oftentimes artistically decorated on both sides. Many times the puzzle contained a ring, a piece of jewelry, or even a lock of the lover's hair within. When the contented receiver opened this type of Valentine, the trick was not only to be able to read the messages in their correct order, but also to fold all of the flaps back up correctly too!

    Then, late during Queen Victoria's reign, an Englishwoman named Kate Greenway began to design beautifully artistic Valentines, eventually evolving into a career in writing children's books for her. Yet is was to be another fellow countryman named Walter Crane who would rival her in design and uniqueness as well with his colorfully outstanding Valentines. Kate Greenway had sold her first Valentine design for U.S. $15.00 when she was only twenty-two years of age by selling over 25,000 copies within the first month of their distribution! Yet the cost of British postage remained high, thus preventing trans-Atlantic Valentines from becoming a yearly ritual. But today, both Greenway and Crane's Valentines are true collector's items that carry hefty investment price tags. 

    Then in 1848, precisely on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, an Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, while working in her father's stationery store, became intrigued with some beautifully laced white and pink English Valentines that her father had imported from overseas. Esther, having fallen 'in love' with them, cut out some red paper and pasted some lacy designs onto the sheets thus creating a kind of envelope. She then attached some pictures, penciled in her own artwork, and before too very long she had developed some rather handsome Valentines. She then finished them off with yellow flowers adorned in crêpe paper. Her father was so taken aback with his daughter's artistic skill that he deliberately ordered more pink, red, and white lace paper, some more crêpe paper, more ink bottles and fountain pens, and some specially designed paper flowers for further ideas. Esther continued on with her Valentine-inspired endeavors and, as Fate would have it, her brother who traveled in his horse and buggy advertising and selling for his father's stationery business requested of her if he could take along with him any extra Valentines she had made that she wouldn't mind parting with. Thinking along the lines of maybe earning U.S. $100-$250, Esther was stunned beyond belief when her brother returned with orders of up to U.S. $5,000-$6,000! Once the supply of paper her father had ordered finally arrived from England, Esther hired some of her girlfriends to assist her with the drawing and copying of Valentine designs that she would drum up. She set up an assembly line wherein one young lady would paste the background, another would glue the lace, and yet another would cut out the pictures, thus completing an amply full Valentine by the end of the "line". As orders increased with alacrity, Esther hired more women and, before too very long, her "factory of Valentines" grew so much that she had to move out to larger and more profitable quarters. By 1862, one New York card company bought over U.S. $30,000 worth of her lacy Valentines, insuring Esther Howland for all time to come a place in America's history in Valentine making and production.

    By 1875, with more modern methods in printing becoming commonplace, Valentines were becoming more available throughout the entire continent of Europe. Sadly, much of the Victorian ornate delicacy had lost its original sparkle once Valentines had become more mass produced. Factories employing women making Valentines during long and hard laborious workdays had produced thousands of them. By the turn-of-the-century, sending individualized Valentine greetings had lost some of its zeal, and the classic English Valentine had fallen into disuse. By 1915, with the coming of World War I and the ugly dance macabre of death and destruction it had left in its wake, Valentine-giving had become a relic of bygone days. 

    Ten years later however, in 1925, an astute and wise English lady named Jeanetta Tuck inspired her beloved husband Sir Aldolph Tuck, who owned and operated a greeting card shop, to print up some Valentine greeting cards just for the month of February of that year. The advent of her proposition couldn't have been any more timely, for her Valentine cards were immediately relished and well accepted among English society once again. Soon the Tucks found competition with other card companies following closely behind them with the same 'romantic' notions. Hence, the former custom of sending Valentines to dear ones was once again revived! So the rest, one must conclude, is history. A curious postscript could include the fact that in modern Japan, young ladies receive Valentines on February the 14th, yet they reciprocate the kindness by giving young boys their due Valentines on March the 14th.

COLORS AND THE SAINT VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE

    The three principal colors associated with Valentine's Day are red (passion and deep affection, the color of the human heart), pink (warmth and loving kindness) and white (purity, faith, and devotion: the absence of passion and emotion). Yet the color red came to symbolize blood on February 14, 1929 when the St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred in Chicago, Illinois. For on that fateful snowy day, gangland mobster and leader Al Capone (1899-1947) of Chicago's South Side Gang, along with his ruthless criminal consorts carried out the most spectacular mob hit massacre in the gangland history of that city. Their target was George "Bugs" Moran of the Chicago's North Side Gang and his men. While Capone was lolling lavishly away "on vacation" out-of-state in Florida, his men had staged a set-up operation wherein seven of Moran's men were led to 2122 North Clark Street, a warehouse where a mechanic was to work on their automobile. A large shipment of bootlegged Canadian Whiskey supposedly awaited them there too. Instead of receiving their expected illicit spirits, Moran's gang members were greeted with a hail of bullets from Capone's henchmen (disguised in police uniforms) and left for dead in a pool of cold blood, turning not only the tide of public opinion against Chicago's two largest and most influential organized crime rings in bootlegged liquor history, but also against Al Capone himself. Ironically, Moran wasn't present nor killed in the carnage. He had smelled something fishy, perhaps, thus departing the scene when he spotted a parked cop car outside of his warehouse store "front". Many Chicagoans, and Hollywood too, still associate this incident with Valentine's Day today.

    Like all holidays born of ancient world traditions, St. Valentine's Day is come to represent  a day of sharing, of giving, of loving, and of thinking about dear ones, romantically or platonically. With springtime just around the corner come Februarytide, the mating season between hundreds of thousands of species, among birds, amidst mammals and amphibians, as well as amongst us humans who continue to fall in and out of love, will once again be in full bloom.  May St. Valentine's Day truly continue to be a day of Love and Light for us all.

"Love is the affinity which links and draws together the elements of the world..."
            
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

"Every time you see a rainbow, it's God's way of saying I love you".
           
Tristan Gagnon (at age four)

"For this was Seynt Valentine's Day when every foul cometh ther to choose his mate".
             from Parlement of Foules, by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400)

"Men are drawn to sex appeal, women to success appeal."  
             Rosemary Dorgan  (1919-1991)

"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."
           
from William Shakespeare's Othello

"We all must follow our Bliss".
           
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)
            
from his renowned work The Power of Myth

for more on this holiday, visit: http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~maggieoh/Holidays/V/v7.html

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