I thought about writing a sweet and endearing history about Valentine’s Day. But, off the cuff, I couldn’t remember ever hearing a happy one. I knew it dated back to Saint Valentine and martyrdom, so I dug a little.
There is the popular folklore about the Saint Valentine that secretly married couples during the reign of Claudius the Cruel. But this story has some trouble with its land legs. As it turns out there are three other Saint Valentine’s.
We wouldn’t even have these stories if it weren’t for a little group of Monks. From Belgium. Yes. This Order of Belgian monks spent three centuries collecting evidence for the lives of saints. They found the information from these incredible manuscript archives — which were around the “known” world.
Those good monks were called Bollandists. Named after Jean Bolland. He was a Jesuit scholar who began publishing the massive 68-folio volumes of the “Lives of the Saints.” All of this began way back in 1643.
When I was a kid, we had a handy two-volume set of “Saints.” One had a pink cover, “Saints for Girls.” The other one blue, “Saints for Boys.” I used to sit up in my room, on the floor, wedged between my bed and the wall and read the stories of the Saints. One right after the other. It was much like reading a Stephen King novel, I guess. The Saints would always die horrible deaths, like getting boiled in oil, and being thrown in furnaces. I was completely intrigued by the barbarity and awfulness of the stories.
Anyway. Back to the monks. And St. Valentine.
They found three.
The first Saint Valentine died in Africa. Right alongside of 24 soldiers. Unfortunately, even the Bollandists could not find any more information about him. Just a death date.
Then, those Monks found two more stories about Saint Valentines.
Roughly, the second story goes, that this Saint-Guy Valentine was preaching the good word of the Lord, and converting people to Christianity. There was an Aristocrat there, named Arnie, or something close to that. Arnie said to Saint V, “If you heal my blind daughter, I won’t turn you over to the authorities.” So, Saint Valentine goes over to Arnie’s daughter, and puts his hand on her eyes. Just like that. BAM. Healed. The kid can see. Arnie is joyous. He dances in the street. Valentine does that one thing, where you spread your arms out to your sides, and run around like you are an airplane. Like the football players do after they score a goal.
Anyway, the Emperor, whose name was Gothicus, caught wind of the whole thing. He was mad — I guess for not being invited to the Healing-Party. Anyway, he had Saint Valentine killed because of the deal. Had him beheaded. And that was that.
Finally, the third Saint Valentine story is almost identical to the one I just told. Except, the “manuscript” they found had a different location listed. One story happened in Rome, the other one in Umbria. Both guys lost their heads at the hand of Gothicus. So, the monks are thinking it was the same deal, just told by folklore-tradition in another location.
And those are the accounts of Saint Valentine.
What isn’t know, is how this all got swept up in romance. Back in the days of the Saints, people would keep relics from those guys. Bone fragments, teeth, and such. And they used them to protects themselves agains evil, like fires, and illnesses. But not love potions, or anything.
Of course, much later on in history, there are glimmers that tie in the Love Connections. Birds mating in February in England, and candy giving in Europe. Little blips along those lines. But no connection to St. Valentine.
So. A bit on the dark and gory side.
I guess the thing to remember this Valentine’s Day is to let people know you love them. And above all else: Keep your head about you.
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
― Elbert Hubbard
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
― William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well
“Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it.”
― Nicholas Sparks, A Walk to Remember