Archive for February 13th, 2009

St. Valentine, Lupercalla and the Vinegar Valentine

February 13, 2009


St. Valentinus, whose head was rolled into a basket one bright morning in the year of our Lord, 270, lent his name to the day which is now consecrated to youth and live, but it is pretty generally conceded by wise men that it is an anachronism to connect him with the origin of the festival. Indeed traces of the celebration have been found among the traditions which come down from the pagans of ancient Europe, and in several directions may be detected evidences that it was not a custom founded in Rome, but rather inherited there.

In the long ago there was a custom among the youth in Rome to draw from a golden box a slip of paper on which was written the name of a girl. This was done in the name of Pau and Juno, and was called the Lupercalla . Later the priests substituted the names of saints for those of young women, and the 14th of February was fixed upon for the feast of Lupercalla. Out of this grew the customs which are now observed on St. Valentine’s day.

There is one thing these wise books do not tell us, however, and that is where and when the comic valentine originated. If you will take from its shelf any one of the standard works of this description you will also discover that it maintains a discreet, yet significant, silence upon the causes which led up to the decapitation of old St. Valentinus that smiling morning in the long ago. It simply tells you that he was executed in the midst of the Caludian persecutions, but never for a moment should it be forgotten that even persecutors must have a cause. There has long been a private suspicion that old St. Valentinus was himself the originator of the comic valentine , and that he expiated his crime in about the proper manner. It does not require any undue stress upon the imagination to see him forwarding to the Emperor Claudius, a picture of a knock-kneed, whopper jawed pirate who is surmounted with a tinsel crown and whose nose is painted with the tints of conflagration, while beneath it all stood a bit of verse which more than intimated that Claudy, old boy, didn’t know enough about the emperor business to hurt. And what would be more natural than for Claudy to call for his wardens, ho! and cut off Mr. Valentine’s head?

The writers tell us that the romantic features of St. Valentine’s day are being revived, particularly in England. We are glad of this, because we have always felt that one day at least should be set apart in honor of that single passion which dwells with man and beast alike. Love is just as much entitled to a festival as labor. To the latter we have given a legal holiday, and the day is cominng when old St. Valentine will find himself recognized in the statutes made and provided as well as through the pictorial rash which breaks out upon humanity once in every year.

The Daily Herald (Chicago, Illinois) Feb 9, 1901