ST VALENTINE’S DAY
by The Rev’d Philip Johnson
I wonder how many people, when going out to buy a bunch of red roses on February 14th, realise they are celebrating a saint’s festival day. It probably isn’t helped by the fact that most retailers and hospitality establishments (pubs & restaurants) advertising this day in order to maximise profit tend to drop the ‘St’ from before valentine’s name. So what does an earlier Christian martyr have to do with the secular festival of courtship and love that it has become today.
First, we probably ought to ask who Valentine was. Actually there are two – both martyred and both celebrated on the same day (Feb 14). One was aRoman priest and doctor, martyred under Claudius II in about 269 on theFlaminian Way, where a basilica was built in his honour in 350. The other was a bishop of Turni who was brought to Rome where he was first tortured and then executed under the direction of Placidus, the ruling Prefect, in about 273.
The origins of the modern Valentine’s Day are probably rooted in theauthor of the Canterbury Tales. In a lesser known work, Parlement of Foules, Chaucer wrote ‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.’ [For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.] This poem was written by Chaucer to mark the first anniversary of the betrothal of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia – they were both 15 years old! – on the 3rd May 1381.
However, in the mediaeval church calendar there was a third St Valentine’s Day. May 2nd was the feast day of bishop Valentine of Genoa and it is almost certainly this Valentine’s Day that Chaucer referred to.
The dearth of historical evidence about these various Valentines and thecommercialism that has been increasing since the time of Chaucer has led to the relegation of this feast-day in the modern calendar to something barely noted. It is thought that no British Church has ever been dedicated to St.Valentine and probably never will be. But why should rampant commercialism cause us to neglect these saints. Why were they executed? Because theyrefused to bow down to the idols of their day. So, let’s reclaim St. Valentine’s Day as a Christian feast and remind ourselves that there are things more important than that which the world idolises.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day