Friday, February 14, 2020

Saint or St.

Did Geoffrey Chaucer invent Valentine’s Day? Perhaps.  St Valentine’s Day has been marked in liturgical calendars for centuries. As a Christian feast day, Valentine’s Day actually commemorates two Saint Valentines: Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. (The Catholic Encyclopedia even speaks of a third Saint Valentine, who was martyred in Africa, but little else is known about him.)

But Valentine’s Day seems to have became associated with romantic love during the late fourteenth century, when Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400), author of The Canterbury Tales, made the association in his poem ‘The Parlement of Foules’, written some time in the 1380s, possibly in 1382. The poem features a parliament, or assembly, of birds, which have gathered together in order to choose their mates. As Chaucer’s narrator remarks, ‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.’ However, several of Chaucer’s contemporaries also wrote poems about Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers, among them John Gower (author of the colossal Confessio Amantis), John Clanvowe, and Oton de Grandson. Chaucer was perhaps merely the poet who popularized the notion, although there is some evidence to suggest that Chaucer was probably writing slightly earlier than these three other poets.  In any event, the date was probably not associated with February 14 but early May.

Whether we can blame Chaucer for those chubby little cherubs shooting arrows of love, wine, roses, and besotted men and smitten women, well, who knows.  But the point is this.  It does not have much to do with Saint Valentine at all, none of them.  Saint Valentine was a widely recognized 3rd-century Roman saint, generally commemorated in Christianity on February 14. From the High Middle Ages his Saints' Day is associated with a tradition of courtly love.  In actuality, there are two different Saints' Lives for a St Valentine on February 14, but they could be the same man. Saint Valentine was a clergyman – either a priest or a bishop – in the Roman Empire who ministered to persecuted Christians. He was martyred and his body buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome, on February 14, which has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine's Day) since 496 AD.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, I like cheese, but I’m glad to know there’s more to chese your make. ;-)