Saint Valentine’s Day is supposed by some to honor an early Christian martyr named Valentine. Although the name “Valentine”, meaning worthy, strong, powerful, wasn’t a very popular Christian name in the 1st century, there are over a dozen Valentine guys who were early Christian martyrs. All we know about this guy is that he was supposedly killed on February 14th in Rome, where his skull rests today in a very attractive, if macabre altar at the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. [Memo to Dan Brown: check this out!]
The church was always big on the idea, and if you’ve visited Jerusalem you’d swear (well, make that “attest”) that it’s still the same: it’s not so much what actually happened, as what people believe to have happened.
Even although the poor guy who smiles back from beneath the altar in Rome doesn’t appear on the earliest list of early Christian martyrs from 354 AD, Pope Gelasius I declared him, whoever he was, to be a martyr in 496 AD. In the wake of Vatican II, the feast day of St. Valentine was removed from the General Roman Calendar with the church declaring, “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”
So what is the origin of this curse that strikes men at 9 pm on February 13 when they realize they must run to the grocery store and paw through the disarray of Valentine’s cards that were so insipid that nobody would buy them, yet buy them they must or commit one of the seven deadly sins of romance.
Now without any religious association, baring of course the theological expletives uttered by those poor male souls sill looking for cards, candy or flowers at the last-minute . . . to what do we owe this travesty of “love”?
According to Wikipedia, The day first became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”).
And ever since Hallmark has rejoiced, publishing its first Valentine’s card in 1913, and rejoicing and chalking up profits ever since in what has become one of America’s quintessential “Hallmark Holidays” [Referring of course to the string of holidays that have no real purpose other than to make money and fill the “seasonal” aisles with merchandise at Costco and Walgreen. ] And blessing upon blessing, the Middle Ages’ tradition included offering confectionary [with apologies to my friends at See’s Candies and Chocolati in Seattle!] and of course the overpriced roses from South America.