February and March are the calendar’s red and green months. I don’t mind this annual pop culture color coding. For Valentine’s Day, pop culture literally put it on the map, long before Victorian England and then Hallmark cashed in on it.
Chaucer has the earliest citation, 1382, Parlement of Foules
“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day,
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate”
He may not have been alluding to the Feb. 14 date of the Christian martyr, but his work fueled the idea of love and St. Valentine.
Ophelia had some musings about it around 1600:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5
From the Catholic Encyclopedia/Wikipedia: Of the Saint Valentine whose feast is on February 14, nothing is known except his name and that he was buried on the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14.
The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493); alongside the woodcut portrait of Valentine, the text states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II for marrying Christian couples when Christianity was illegal. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. Various dates are given for the martyrdom 269, 270, or 273.
Our Happy Endings
Fast forward to February 2012, the ABC show Happy Endings, a sweet, goofy comedy that is Friends 3.0 set in Chicago. In their Valentine’s ep, Alex is the believer, the Linus in the pumpkin patch of hearts. She spouts a whole new mythology for Valintinius Valentine:
“ A 9th century Prussian martyr, ordained at St. Stanislaus church, who roamed the Black Forest looking for his lost love. If you believe in him, he will help you find love, and this year he’s going to help me."
Apart from the hysterical geography lesson, she does have him martyred at the hands of the Romans "They ripped him tip to taint."
At the end of the episode she offers one more piece of Prussian Valentine lore:
Alex: I want to give you all a hug, something the real St. Valentine couldn’t do after the Roman ripped his arms off.
Penny: They were really hard on him, was there anything left?
Alex: Just his heart, which they skewed and put on display in the town center, which is why the heart is the symbol of St. Valentine’s Day!
TV certainly creates its own mythology---like the Friends trope---but I don’t remember “knowledge” so badly misquoted without some other character stepping in to correct or at least question it, outside of Cliff Clavin, of course.
And here’s this blog’s own Happy Ending: learning that whoever St. Valentine was, the Irish have him!
“In 1835 an Irish Carmelite priest, Fr. John Spratt, used his Irish charm to convince then Pope Gregory XVI to dig up St. Valentine’s remains and take them home as a gift to his fellow Irishmen and women.”
So there he lies, in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, in Dublin. The Irish are such crazy romantics at heart. This I know.
(Photos from the Happy Endings St. Valentine's Maxssacre episode. Clever title.)