Thursday, February 23, 2017

February is the Month for Love by Victoria Chatham


February is not only the shortest month of the year but also the month in which St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated, the day when lovers traditionally declare their love and give each other gifts. However, history is hazy as to whom, exactly, Valentine was but there’s a strong possibility that any one of seven priests known as Valentine could be a contender. The two most likely candidates are St. Valentine, a bishop of Rome and St. Valentine, the first bishop of Interamna in Terni, a town in Umbria.
Our first St. Valentine lived during the reign of Claudius II who had something of a problem with his army. After engaging in several unpopular campaigns, married men simply refused to join up. Claudius understood this, so he banned engagements and marriages thinking that a single man had less incentive to stay at home. But St. Valentine, bishop of Rome, continued to marry couples in secret after Claudius had banned the ceremony. For this, and then refusing to renounce Christianity, Valentine was clubbed, stoned and beheaded on February 14th in Ad 269 or 270.
The second Valentine who might have been a contender for the title came to an equally unpleasant end. For the crime of marrying a pagan man to a Christian woman, he was scourged, imprisoned and beheaded on February 14th during the same period.
This for the Romans was the time of Festivals of Purification and Fertility, which took place from February 13th to 18th, and were dedicated to peace, love and household goods. But, on February 14th, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia – likely dedicated to Juno-Lupa, the She-Wolf. If you remember the story, Rome was reputed to have been founded by the twins, Romulus and Remus. They were raised by a she-wolf in a cave in the Palatine Hills and it was close to that cave that the festival took place.
In AD 496 Pope Gelasius declared February 14th to be the Feast Day of St. Valentine, patron saint of lovers and engaged couples. During this time young Roman men took to courting the young women they admired with handwritten greetings of undying love and affection. If this mutual admiration resulted in marriage then, to prove to the father of the bride that his new son-in-law had his bride’s best intentions at heart, the groom gave the bride a ring. This is believed to be the earliest time for a ring to be incorporated into the marriage ceremony.
During the medieval era, this tradition carried on when couples would put their own names in a box and then be drawn in pairs. Each couple would exchange gifts and the girl would be the man’s sweetheart for a year. He was duty bound during that year to protect her and wore her ribbon on his sleeve. The end of the year usually culminated in a wedding. These were the origins of what was called courtly love.
In 1382 Geoffrey Chaucer in his Parliament of Foules wrote ‘For this was St. Valentine’s Day when every bird cometh there to choose his mate’, and in 1537 Henry VIII, he of the six wives, declared by Royal charter that England would celebrate February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day, the traditional date for exchanging love messages and simple gifts. It was during the 1500’s that paper valentines began to appear and were known as poetical or amorous addresses.
Then there were the romantic poets and playwrights down through the ages from Shakespeare (When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew), to Christopher Marlow (Come live with me and be my love), John Donne (I wonder by my troth, what thou and I did before we loved?) and on through Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats and numerous other poets.
During the early 1700’s Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art known as the Language of Flowers to Europe. This attributed flowers with certain symbolic meanings, something the
Victorians took to heart as a means for a love-stricken swain to send clandestine messages to his intended. Chocolates came into the market in the mid-1800’s when Richard Cadbury invented a way to mix chocolate and cocoa butter to make sweeter, more edible chocolate. The resulting sweet treats were sold in fancy boxes and the Victorians snapped them up.
British artist Kate Greenway, 1846-1901, was well known for her Valentine cards and Esther Howland, 1828 – 1904, started making handmade cards but demand outstripped her capabilities and she began mass production of them in the US and the UK. These penned romantic verses continue in modern Valentine cards with a mind-boggling 190 million cards being sent last year in the US alone.
More latterly diamonds, the so-called King of Gems, have been become a popular Valentine’s gift whether in the form of earrings, necklaces or bracelets. The ancient source of diamonds was India but today the top five diamond-producing countries in the world are Russia, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, and Canada. South Africa, once a major producer of diamonds, is now at the bottom of that list. Diamonds are found in primary and secondary deposits of alluvial gravel, sand or clay. The rarest of all diamonds, the red diamond, is still only found in India. At the time of its sale in 1987, the Hancock Red was the most expensive per-carat gemstone ever sold at auction. Scientists are still not one hundred percent sure what gives a red diamond its colour. In 1475 Ludwig von Berquen, a Dutch lapidary, invented a way of cutting flat surfaces on gemstones, thereby increasing their brilliance. The best-known shapes are Princess, Pear, Marquise, and Emerald but for a breath-taking sparkling diamond ring, choose a round brilliant cut diamond.
However, whatever the real origins of St. Valentine’s Day, whatever the gift, the best tradition of February 14th is always the declaration of true love.



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