So with St. Valentine’s Day (chocolates for the Lovely Bride, plus we both stay home tonight to cook lobster, thanks for asking), I started to do some digging about the origin of the holiday and the Saint himself.
Naturally, I was surprised by what I turned up.
In gaming terms, St. Valentine represents 1d3 different people, who may or may not have their remains buried in 1d4 places, and of whom 1d2 are celebrated by the Feast Day on the day of his execution, 14 February (it was a Feast Day at least until 1969, when Valentine, Christopher, Nicholas, and a lot of other “legendary” saints lost their universal feast-day rights).
Of what is known of the historical Valentine, well, there isn’t a lot. He was martyred during the reign of Emperor Claudius Gothicus (also called Claudius II) in 269, and martyrdom itself was an automatic gimme for early saints. Some two hundred years later, Pope Gelasius set Valentine’s feast day in February to compete with the Lupercalia, a pagan holiday celebrating fertility.
Now, accreted to these bare facts is the legendary St. Valentine legend, most of it in place by the 1300s. Here’s the tale: Claudius Gothicus, an evil and warlike Emperor, banned his soldiers from getting married, as married men were more likely to worry about their loved ones than the task at hand. Valentine continued to conduct marriage ceremonies on the sly, and was caught and imprisoned. Additional legend adds the jailor’s blind daughter, who falls in love with him and regains her sight, causing the jailor to convert. Alas, Valentine is still offed, but sends a last letter to his now-visually-enhanced girlfriend, with the signature “From your Valentine.”
Now this is a great story, and hits all the points for a medieval tale – Evil pagan Roman Emperors, Christian challenge in the name of goodness, confrontation with imperial authority, imprisonment, forbidden romance, miracles, and a moral (“He died so you could get roses”). It sounds so very – Valentiney. The fact that it is untrue has no bearing on the matter, and so it has been unchallenged by what few facts can be brought to bear.
For example - Claudius, the evil emperor who kept his troops from being married? Claudia took the throne at a time when the legions were deeply involved in choosing the emperor, and they chose Claudius, who might have been involved in the assassination of his imperial predecessor. Claudius, in turn, urged mercy for the dead emperor’s family, and in his brief rein (268-270), was responsible for soundly beating the invading German and Goth tribes. He died of plague in while on campaign, and was deified immediately because he was thought of as being a good emperor by his people. He was so well thought of that, in the 4th Century (before Val got his day), Claudius was ret-conned into being the ancestor of the Byzantium Emperor Constantine to improve Constantine’s standing. There is no mention in the biographies of Claudius II of anything as mule-headed as keeping the legionnaires who supported his rule from marrying, and while Christians were persecuted in Rome, Emperor Claudius was more often in the field than on the throne.
But all this leaves me with a Lovecraftian feeling on this day, which is that our “known universe” consists only a thin veneer of widely-accepted untruths, with darker and stranger things moving in the turgid waters beneath that ice. So Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone, and try not to think about it too much.
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