Mon 9 Feb 2009
This Valentine’s Day greeting comes to you from a flock of Canada geese aloft between Inverness Ridge and my cabin.
Since the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day — or St. Valentine’s Day — has been associated with lovers. But it wasn’t always this way.
In fact, the Catholic Church until as recently as 1969 recognized 11 St. Valentine’s Days annually, each in memory of a different religious martyr named Valentine. The Valentine’s Day traditionally celebrated on Feb. 14 is in honor of St. Valentine of Turni (a bishop martyred 197 AD during a persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Aurelian) and St. Valentine of Rome (a priest martyred in 269 AD).
The remains of St. Valentine of Turni are buried in Rome while those of St. Valentine of Rome are buried in Rome, Dublin, and (according to islanders) on Malta. In any case, after a few hundred years went by, lay people didn’t distinguish between these two St. Valentines.
Another St. Valentine was supposedly executed under orders from the Emperor Claudius II, who had unsuccessfully urged him to become a pagan. According to lore, this St. Valentine healed his jailer’s blind daughter, and on the eve of his execution, he sent her a message, which he signed, “Your Valentine.” Other lore says he sent the message to a girlfriend, which may explain why a religious holiday evolved into a romantic celebration.
However, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the tradition of lovers exchanging Valentines on Feb. 14 began. The tradition started in England and spread to the United States just in time for the Industrial Revolution to make possible the mass production of Valentine’s cards. By now an estimated one billion are mailed each year worldwide.
Sealed with a kiss. I spotted these harbor seals sunning themselves last month on a sandbar at the mouth of the Russian River. And may you too find yourself with a warm companion this Saturday.