Volume 94, Issue 80
Wednesday, February 14, 2001
The savagely beaten, headless holy man
Remember making heart-shaped pockets out of red construction paper in elementary school? The teacher always provided a generous helping of various shades of red and pink construction paper, as well as bits of white lace with which to decorate our short-lived mailboxes.
They'd be spattered with glue, speckled with odds and ends of materials ranging from paper, to fabric, to perishable foodstuffs. But in the end, all we cared about was how many postcard-sized valentines we would find in the paper pouch.
Even though you didn't get the day off, Feb. 14 was a good day. You'd never be disappointed, it wasn't expensive and there was usually chocolate involved. But, you only ever see things on the surface as a child. We had no idea of the depth of meaning, or the historical implications of that special day. How could we?
Valentine's day's origins, like most things, trace its way back to the days of the Roman Empire. The day before, Feb. 14, was the day the Romans worshipped Juno, the Queen of the Gods, and coincidentally, the Goddess of women and marriage.
The next day however, was the feast of Lupercalia, where besides generous portions of food, the names of Roman girls were written on bits of paper and placed into jars. Later, the boys drew names and would be paired off with the girl corresponding to the drawn name. Think of it as Roman "Spin the bottle" except, you'd end up with that person for a year and maybe even get married.
Another fine tradition of the Roman Empire was crazy emperors. One such despot, named Claudius II, wanted a gigantic army in order to kill, those who he felt were no good foreigners trying to have their own countries. Yet no one would volunteer for the Roman army, since most men had families.
So, Claudius, like any realistic leader, made all further marriages illegal. A lot of Romans thought that this law was completely insane. One such Roman was a priest named Valentine, who stuck it to the man by covertly marrying young couples. He was eventually caught and sentenced to death by the Prefecture of Rome.
Then, in the spirit of the day soon to be named after him, Valentine was beaten mercilessly within an inch of his life with wooden clubs and beheaded. Personally, I like to think this explains the modern preference of chocolate to fierce beatings followed by decapitation on Valentine's day.
Years later, when eradicating the last vestiges of pagan ritual in the Empire, the Church switched the feast of Lupercalia to Valentine's day to mark what was said to be his martyrdom for the Christian institution of marriage.
The reason cards are exchanged on Feb. 14, it is said, comes from the time spent by Valentine in prison. It is said that the people of Rome sent him thanks through letters that expressed their deep appreciation for his effort and their belief in love and the more tender side of humanity.
That was the unknown reason that, we as children, exchanged cards on Valentine's day. Given the grisly details of Valentine's death, it's easy to reason out why we were never told.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000