St. Valentine’s Forever After
By Jill McLean

Yes, love… one of the greatest aspirations of humankind. And like all emotional virtues, we seek to share this tangible offering with those around us. Valentine’s Day steps forward with all of its sweet, heartfelt opportunity each and every February. We honor it in today’s times with varying degrees of passion, but its history is veiled. Perhaps it is the many legends associated with this day of romance that continues to stoke the coals in our hearts for one another. Mystery and stories of old seem to captivate us in ways that purely factual data could never fulfill.

Our imagination wanders far back into the vaults of time… the bizarre Roman pagan festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration that emerged each year on the date of February 15. Breaking into a different time, Pope Gelasius I painted a new version of the pagan festival as a Christian feast day in 496, making February 14 the official St. Valentine’s Day. The mystery begins with three Christian saints, all endowed with the gracious name of Valentine. A priest in Rome, a bishop in Terni, and a third for whom mystery swirls around and about almost nothing is known, except that he met his life’s end in Africa. It is said that all three of these men were martyred on February 14th. At last, we enter into the mythical realm with the story that the “real” St. Valentine was a priest for whom the Roman emperor of 270, Claudius II, greatly disfavored. Variations of this story are the beginnings of our heartfelt holiday, with one claiming that Claudius II prohibited marriage for men because the singularity of bachelorhood made for the best soldiers, without the distractions of family and love. St. Valentine secretly continued to join couples in marriage, but was overcome by the Romans and martyred in death. Another swooning legend is that he was imprisoned and, falling in love with his jailer’s daughter, sent her words of love in the form of a letter, with the flourish of “from your Valentine” at its beautiful end. One of the more likely stories is that St. Valentine’s love was based not on Eros’ passionate love, but overflowing with agape, which is Christian love… and eventually martyred for his devotion to — and refusal to renounce — his religion.

Shooting love’s arrow into the 14th century, the early Christian feast day is finally linked inextricably to the affairs of the heart. The magical year of 1381 was bejeweled with a poem from author and poet Chaucer, crowning by words the engagement between Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in “The Parliament of Fowls”… portraying the union through the concept of the mating season of birds:

For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.

Travel through the pages of time, and we are graced with the beauty of the holiday in its many forms. Evolving into something new in the 18th century, lovers began the tradition of giving special gifts and exchanging handcrafted cards of lace, ribbons, hearts and Cupid on Valentine’s Day. Expression of emotions in these creative ways spread to the United States in the 1850’s, with large production of cards and goodies booming more each year, even to the present time.

In today’s world, some of us get starry eyed with the day that celebrates love, while others feel the commercialization of it all has diffused its urgency and specialness. Whether you side with Cupid or not, remember that it’s all about matters of the heart and this is forever after where the beauty of February 14th blooms and grows.