Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Mystery of St Valentine's

When she first came to America, artist Debbie Solan was surprised to find that we sign our valentines!   In Ireland, the great game of the holiday is to reveal your affection without revealing your identity.  And for the recipient, a delightful puzzle...who might your admirer be?

So at The Idea Field / Fusionglass Co, we are thinking this year of mystery and anonymity, in art and in love.

The identity of St. Valentine is itself mysterious, as the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints by the name.  Perhaps he was a third-century Roman priest executed for performing marriages in secret even after Emperor Claudius, who believed that single men made better soldiers, had outlawed matrimony for men of military age.   

Or was he martyred for helping Christian prisoners escape from Roman prisons? Perhaps, as the legend goes, the imprisoned Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and in the final hour of his execution he sent her a message.  “Your Valentine,” he signed the note, thereby sending the first Valentine.

The church celebrated Saint Valentine in February to commemorate the supposed day of his death around 270 AD. It is likely, however, that February was actually chosen to undermine  and appropriate the power of pagan beliefs. The beginning of spring was a time of purification and ritual cleansing. In ancient, pre-Christian Rome, culminated with the Luppercalia, a pastoral fertility festival dedicated to the wild, horned goat-god Faunus. The celebrations included goat sacrifice and the playful, ritualistic whipping of the city’s young women to insure fertility.  

By the middle ages mysterious Valentine had successfully Christianized the day and was among the most venerated, beloved Saints in England and France.  Common wisdom of the day held that birds began to mate on February 14.  

This seems a fitting, albeit unwitting homage to Faunus, god of forest and field.

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