Wednesday, February 15, 2012

San Valentino: Patron Saint of Lovers

The story of San Valentino originates in Roman antiquity.
San Valentino a Christian martyr from what is today Terni, was born in 176.   A convert to Christianity, he was ordained a bishop in 197, during a time of Christian persecutions and the expansion and defense of the Roman Empire. His growing popularity and conversions of non Christians, threatened -or possibly just annoyed- the roman rulers and he was eventually executed at the order of Emperor Lucius Domitius Aurelianus in 273 during one of his stays in Rome 
S.Valentino as Martyr
The legend surrounding San Valentino says that during one of his incarcerations, he was given in custody to a noble family who had a young daughter who was blind. Later, at the time of his beheading, San Valentino was said to have performed the miracle of giving the young girl her sight. He is commemorated every February 14
If this sounds to you as it does to me, like a tender almost paternal love, radically different from the associations we have of Valentine’s Day today, you are correct.
In fact, the legend of San Valentino is thought to have been overlaid by the Catholic Church on an ancient pagan fertility ritual Lupercali. Associated with the Greek god Pan, Lupercus’ priests wore goat skins and made animal sacrifices to ensure  the health and prosperity of their followers. It is believed that until the 4th century, non Christians of Rome celebrated this annual feast, much to displeasure of the growing Catholic Church..
Protector of lovers
I have heard many stories associated with  the Lupercali, but cannot vouch for their veracity. The story I like best however, fictitious as it may be, says that the names of young men and women who were devotees of  Lupercus, were placed in an urn  and chosen randomly by a child to live together  for an entire year until the fertility ritual was concluded  ( I assume with the birth of child.)  Wanting to put an end to this practice the Church promoted its own patron saint of lovers, San Valentino who had been martyred some 200 years earlier.
In Sicily, the feast of San Valentino is celebrated much more in recent years than when I was growing up when it was much less commercial.
On this feast of San Valentino, in addition to the endearing expressions and beautiful red roses from my darling husband, a familiar pair of love birds returned to our lagoon the morning of February 14.  An omen no doubt from San Valentino and his alter-ego Lupercus, for  love, health and prosperity for the rest of the year!
Auguri per la festa di San Valentino!
Ciao a presto!

No comments:

Post a Comment