Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Reclamation of Valentine's Day: Part 2

Consider the Source.

Saint Valentine's Day. That's right, the day for lovin' your honey takes it's name from a Christian martyr (actually, several of them).
And just like other internationally celebrated over-commercialized holidays (see Halloween, Christmas), it represents a strange cross-cultivation of Catholic beliefs with indigenous (read: pagan, often Roman) celebration.
Here's a synopsis.
The Catholic church loves its martyrs. And why wouldn't they? They represent a level of faith, belief, determination, and courage that is enviable in today's fickle world. They also have cool names (Valentine. Felicity. Perpetua. Sebastian. I mean, really. With names like these, they were destined to do something that landed them in the history books.)

There were several St. Valentines, most of them martyrs. But for the sake of brevity, I'll just recount some major events in a Valentinian life (according to the ancient church tradition of the Saints, which, major points notwithstanding, is sometimes a tiny bit fabricated...but makes for awesome morals). So here we have Valentine, a Catholic priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius (about the time Catholics and criminals ended up as lion-bait in the bowels of the Colosseum).
Despite the edict against practicing, St. Valentine continued to preside at marriage ceremonies for young lovers.
And was imprisoned for his crimes.
While in the clink, however, he healed the jailer's child of blindness, and, legend has it, continued to preach the Christian Gospel by way of tiny letters sent out the window of his cell via the birds that perched there.

And thus began the correlation between Valentine, lovers, and tiny little notes of love... though St. Valentine's notes would have been concerned with a more divine Love....

Meanwhile, the Romans were celebrating Lupercalia, an Ides of February celebration that incorporated the Romulus and Remus mythology (La Cita Eterna's founders, suckled by a mother wolf in infancy),
and some good old-fashioned "let's run through the streets wearing nothing but a wolf hide and carrying thongs of animal skin." The women of Rome would line the streets with hands outstretched, hoping to have their palms whipped by the thongs of the Lupercalians; it meant a healthy birth if you were pregnant, or fertility if you weren't.
Hundreds of years later, along about 1380, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Parliament of Fowles, which included a rhyme from which sprang a tradition:
For this was on Seynt Valentynes day,
When every foul cometh theere to chese his make [mate]...".
It wasn't a long stretch to move from each bird finding its mate in the ruddy rush of pending springtime to, well, this:
which, quite frankly, makes me want to find a white toga and a woodland swing and someone to frolic with during the rites of Spring.
Yet I'd be just as happy with this:

which I'll explain later....

photos: St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilla by Jacopo Bassano circa 1575, Detail of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Spring, Illuminated Manuscript of the death of St. Sebastian, The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer by Leon Gerome, Stained-glass window of St. Valentine presiding over the marriage of two lovers, Love Jail by Don Moyer, Bound To You in Vintage Colors by Jessica Rose from flickr, Beccafumi Lupercalia, Fragment Romulus et Remus, The Women of Amphissus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Angel of the Birds... by Tonya Van Gieson, Spring by Pierre Auguste Cot 1873, Emma Thompson as Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing.

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