February 14th is normally associated with St Valentine, the patron saint of love. But there has often been a darker side to the date…
St Valentine is an elusive character. The only thing historians are sure of is that he was martyred then buried north of Rome. They’re not even certain if he’s one person or a mix of two. Most of the legends about him were made up in 14th century England, mostly by Geoffrey Chaucer. It wasn’t until then that Valentine became associated with romance.
Even since that time, Valentine’s Day has not always been an occasion for hearts and roses.
Elaine: There have been wars, battles and massacres along with many sporting events and memorial plays such as Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance Of Being Earnest” opening in London. Of course, we also can’t forget Aretha Franklin’s recording of Respect.
Francesca: Indeed. Though not much ‘respect’ was shown to Richard II who was starved to death in Pontefract Castle in 1400, by the man who became Henry IV. Nor to James Cook, killed in 1779 by native Hawaiians. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand weren’t much into love for their fellow human beings when they issued a decree in 1502 that began the Spanish Inquisition.
Elaine: The valentine’s card as we know it started in the 19th Century. Until then, any flirting and declarations were made through the coded use of fans and, in a more formal way, the giving of jewellery, with gems being set in order, so all the first letters spelt a word.
Francesca: On 14th February 1876, Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the telephone. I guess after that, you could ring your loved one and say, ‘I just called to say I love you.’
Elaine: When I was growing up, I don’t remember it being about a gift or going for an expensive conveyor belt meal that was surrounded by commercial sentimentality. I do remember being excited and worried at receiving a card that had no name of the giver inside and looking at people I knew for days, trying to decide if it came from any of them. It wasn’t commercial; it was fun and feeling happy that someone fancied you.
Hum, I wonder if Al Capone ordered the killing of seven gangsters in 1929, known as The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, because he never received a card. Now there’s a thought.
Francesca: Perhaps these days, Scarface could channel his violent tendencies into making films on You Tube, launched on Valentine’s Day 2005.
However you celebrate Valentine’s Day, we wish you all a good one.