Monday, February 21, 2011

St. Valentine's (belated)

A belated celebration for St Valentine's Day, a week ago to-day.

Saint Valentine (or Valentinus in Latin) was a early Roman Christian martyr buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. Not much is known about him for certain but the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.

Aside from stories relating to him marrying couples he has little or no direct links to Love or Romance. Rather, his feast day was considered by Medieval scholars to be the day on which birds start to mate and build nests. Most hagiographies say Valentine himself was a virgin.

The flower-crowned skull of St Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.

In 1836, some relics that were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina , then near (rather than inside) Rome, were identified with St Valentine; placed in a casket, and transported to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland (where I used to live), to which they were donated by Pope Gregory XVI. Many tourists visit the saintly remains on St. Valentine's Day, when the casket is carried in solemn procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and all those in love. Alleged relics of St. Valentine also lie at the reliquary of Roquemaure in France, in the Stephansdom in Vienna, in Balzan in Malta and also in Blessed John Duns Scotus' church in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. There is also a gold reliquary bearing the words 'Corpus St. Valentin, M' (Body of St. Valentine, Martyr) at The Birmingham Oratory, UK in one of the side altars in the main church.

I have shown a pierced heart, a Cupid (son of Mars (War) and Venus (Love & Beauty); equivalent to the Greek god Eros (from whom we get erotic)), a Rose and a crowned capital A, a popular medieval love-token or badge. It stands for Amor Vincit Omnia - Love Conquers Everything! The Rose is a sacred flower - meetings and trysts held beneath a suspended rose were considered sworn to secrecy and discretion. Hence the (sadly under-used) expression 'sub rosa' to mean strictly between you and me!

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