Valentine’s day is a tradition that began in the Middle Ages. It is done in recognition of St Valentine, a christian martyr. Who was St. Valentine? Quite frankly, no one truly knows. St Valentine could actually have been one of three individuals who were martyred between AD 197 and AD 269. Why was St Valentine’s name attributed to romance? Again, no one truly knows. To confound the issue, the Roman Catholic Church who martyred St. Valentine actually removed the Feast Day of St. Valentine from the official General Roman Calendar in 1969 for reasons unknown.
The fact is the true existence of a St. Valentine continues to be a mystery. Balza, a small village in Malta, has claimed that several relics of St. Valentine can be found there. Other wide ranging legends have persisted over the years. One of them lays claim to the fact or myth that St. Valentine was a priest who performed marriage ceremonies for young men against the wishes of Roman Emperor Claudius II. Allegedly, Roman Emperor Claudius II did not want young men marrying because he believed that unwed men were better warriors in his armies. St Valentine was consequently jailed by the emperor and on the day he was to be executed, St. Valentine wrote a final letter to the girl he loved titled, “From Your Valentine.”
Again, nothing has been proven. Not St. Valentine, not the relics and not this final, romantic letter from St. Valentine. So, for all intents and purposes, Valentine’s Day may be a hoax. The question is, “Who had us all bamboozled and why?” I can see where the Roman Church may have had something to gain with the theme of “love.” After all, isn’t love what most religions espouse? However, even the Roman Catholic Church distanced itself from February 14 to some extent when they officially removed St. Valentine’s Day from their calendar.
Perhaps, it was Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote the first poem that was attributed to Valentine’s Day in 1382 called “Parlement of Foules.” The famous phrase in the poem was, “For this was on seynt Volantynys day,
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” For those not too fond of medieval English, like yours truly, the translation would be, “”For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” After this poem was released, everyone assumed that Chaucer was talking about February 14. But again, there was no solid proof of this.
There seems to be a familiar set of themes developing here: collective amnesia, aspiration, imagination and undying hope. I mean, the Roman Catholic Church suddenly developed a form of amnesia when they took St. Valentine’s Day off the official calendar. All of a sudden, they didn’t seem so clear on the man they had made a martyr of years earlier. Better we just take his day off our calendar and leave it at that.
The villagers of Balza imagine that they have St. Valentine’s relics without any real proof and won’t take no for an answer.
The legend of St Valentine writing his first “Valentine” to the woman he loved on the day of his execution aspires to what we believe love should be. Even at those dying moments, all St Valentine could think of was of the woman he loved.
And in Chaucer’s poem, we experience the undying hope that one fateful day we shall meet that mate who has come to share in our lives, and be our one true soul mate just like those birds.
When we are in love, we forget all that is wrong with the world and start living as though we have just been pulled out of our mother’s womb. It’s like we are experiencing “amnesia.” We start “aspiring” to life and the endless possibilities ahead with our mate. We “imagine” perfection and no matter what, we never let that “hope die.”
In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter whether St. Valentine ever truly existed. His legacy or lack there of is a testament to that emotion that most humans hold more precious than anything else, love.