Jon de Vos: Valentine’s Day real or Hallmark?
February 13, 2009
Tomorrow is Valentines Day. If it snuck up on you and youve done nothing for your special love muffin, or if you left mom until the last minute, fret not. Theres plenty of time to shop locally for that love of your life and its hard to go wrong with chocolates or flowers. On the other hand, if only a Missiaglia & Nardi sapphire anklet from that quaint little shop just off the Piazza San Marco in Venice will do, youve left it quite late. Fortunately, its still easily done with your new Learjet 55, purchased from your share of the bailout funds. Its cruising speed of 522 miles per hour will get you there and back just in time to make your dinner date with mom and give her the ankle bracelet. Or does she get the chocolates?On Feb. 14, we commemorate the death of a 3rd century Christian priest known on the street as, Valentinus the Presbyter of Rome. Presbyters were neighborhood organizers with priestly duties like converting pagans and overthrowing emperors. They were also the first ones the Romans pitched to a pack of hungry tigers when they tired of Christian ranting.Valentine was heavily promoted by the early church to replace a wickedly debauched Roman ritual where, in early spring, the names of all the roaming maidens went into a hat and the boys drew out their main squeeze for the next year. Next spring, all the girls went back in the hat and the games began anew. Sort of like High School Musical today.Most of what we know about Saint Valentine, we learned from Hallmark Cards because real records of his life and existence are sketchy. This is compounded by the fact that Valentinus was a popular name among moms around 250 AD and theres a lot of confusion over exactly which particular Valentine made his living performing miracles. The Roman Emperor, Claudius II, was a warmonger who felt that married men made lousy gladiators and outlawed marriage. Not-Yet-a-Saint Valentine thumbed his Roman nose at the emperor and married a bunch of folks on the sly. Apprehending Val for the crime of marrying, Claude decided to make him an example and had him beaten, beheaded, imprisoned and stoned, not necessarily in that order. During the imprisoned part, in one of those typical jailhouse romances, Valentine fell deeply into a passionate, yet chaste relationship with the jailers blind daughter. As the Centurions were dragging him out of his moldy cell for the beheading part, he slipped his virtuous love a note of hope and encouragement. She unfolded the note to find not only could she see, she could read, too. His message ended with a phrase that has come intact to the greeting card industry across almost 2,000 years, From Your loving Valentine. Curing her blindness was the miracle that caught his legend on fire, branding him in the Catholic pantheon forever as the Saint of Love.Well, not quite forever. In 1969, Pope Paul VI crossed him off the list because Val failed to pay taxes on his chauffeured luxury car. No, wait, that was Tom Daschle. Saint Valentine was stripped of his merit badges because there wasnt enough substantive evidence he ever existed. Like Hallmark cared by then.
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