The “Peanuts” creator may have been on to something. Love is the first thing that comes to mind, when you think of Valentine’s Day. The symbolism can’t be missed: Heart-shaped boxes of candy, heart-shaped greeting cards, floral arrangements with heart-shaped love notes, and even a little cherub sporting a bow and arrow. With Valentine’s Day arriving next Tuesday, it’s time for love and affection toward those we desire and cherish most.
How did all of this mushy fuss come about? St. Valentine was a real person and is officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. The most familiar account of his life was from the 1400s and describes him as a temple priest who was beheaded near Rome by the emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed. Another account of his life, however, describes him as the Bishop of Terni who was also martyred by Claudius II. In any event, we celebrate him on Feb. 14, because it was historically the day of his execution in 269 AD. Legend has it that he left a note for the jailer’s daughter who had befriended him and signed it “From Your Valentine” hence the tradition of the day we most identify with affection and adoration.
Legend of St. Valentine
About a dozen Roman Catholic saints over the centuries have carried the name “Valentinus” from the Latin word for either worthy, strong or powerful. The most recently beatified Valentine is St. Valentine Berrio-Ochoa, a Spaniard of the Dominican order who traveled to Vietnam where he served as bishop until his beheading in 1861. Pope John Paul II canonized Berrio-Ochoa in 1988. There was even a Pope Valentine, but he only served for a month or so around 269 A.D.
St. Valentine has a wide range of spiritual responsibilities outside of watching over the lives of lovers. He has been called on to intervene in everything from beekeeping to traveling, and from epilepsy to plague. Mostly though, St. Valentine is the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages. He is so adored around the Western world, that when an excavation in Rome in the early 1800s reportedly revealed his skeletal remains, bits and pieces of the late saint’s body were distributed to reliquaries around the world. If you visit the right museum or cathedral in parts of the Czech Republic, Ireland, Scotland, England or France, you might spot a bit of the remains of St. Valentine.
Cupid and his arrow
Fans of “The Canturbery Tales” might find it interesting that Geoffrey Chaucer had a unique connection to Valentine’s Day. There are no literary records of romantic celebrations taking place prior to his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules” in which he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day. The poem does refer to Feb. 14 as the day birds (and us) come together to find a mate: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day/Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” Who knows? Chaucer may have invented the holiday we know of today. It isn’t known, if he was a fan of chocolate.