St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Barry White February 14, 2013Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
Tags: Badass Saints, Catholic, Chaucer, gay marriage, Hallmark holiday, holiday, love, married soldiers, martyr, Middle Ages, poetry, St. Valentine, tradition, Valentine's Day
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Today is St. Valentine’s Day! In honor of the day, I answer the question, “How does St. Valentine tie into this Hallmark Corporate Sponsored ‘holiday’?”
But I’m gonna tell it Badass Saints style. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.
I know what you’re wondering: how did a third-century martyr come to be remembered by cheap boxes of drugstore chocolates, sappy cards covered in glitter hearts, and bouquets of flowers from the gas station?
St. Valentine’s life is a mystery, most likely because he died in Rome in 269 (well played, God) and was not known for any heroic or super-saintly deeds. In fact, much of his history is thought to be bits of the lives of three different dudes all muddled together like some sort of hagiographical mix-tape. In fact, so little is actually known that in 1969, the Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from the calendar of observed feasts, though he remains venerated as a Saint.
Val was a bishop back in the happenin’ town of Rome, and he—as so many Badass Saints did—fell out of favor with the Emperor. Claudius wasn’t a fan of Christians to begin with, but Claudius was also a soldier, and like so many rulers before and since, he felt a burning duty to involve himself in the sex lives of his troops. Claudius believed that unmarried men made better soldiers, so he forbade his men to marry. And he did it at a time when violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could get you disemboweled and your own dick fed to you on a stick.
Even back then, people were not going to stand for being kept from marrying the person they love, so they found ways to defy the emperor, and Bishop Valentine became the go-to guy for marrying soldiers on the sly. Of course when you’re the go-to guy for anything, word gets out, and Valentine pretty much had his dick handed to him for defying the Emperor on matters of love, marriage, and soldiering. He was beaten with clubs and rocks, and when that didn’t kill him (Badass!), he was finally beheaded. Suddenly, having to celebrate the day with a box of candy doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s all about perspective, man.
So that’s how St. Valentine became associated with love and marriage, though the two were never officially linked in any way until Geoffrey Chaucer got creative with his quill and connected the dots, and introduced him as a patron of courtly love. Literally, the dude made it up, and folks seemed to like it, so the tradition of showering one’s beloved with gifts on this day can be blamed on the premiere poet of the Middle Ages. Yes, Chaucer was both the Father of English Literature and the inventor of the Hallmark Holiday.
As a side note, there’s some flimsy evidence that we celebrate St. Valentine as the Patron of Love simply because his feast day was celebrated the day before the pagan fertility celebration of Lupercalia, though that theory has been generally dismissed by scholars who study such things. And even though the Church has a long and storied tradition of playing fast and loose with pagan rites and rituals, in this case there’s no real connection between Lupercalia and the modern tradition of getting down with a box of wine and a Barry White album.
St. Valentine’s official feast day, though no longer celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church, is on February 14, and he is the patron Saint of engaged couples, bee keepers, love, happy marriages, and the plague and is invoked against epilepsy.