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 Take heart, Valentine's every other week

    February 09 2001 at 07:23AM
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By Sarah Tippit

Los Angeles - If you still haven't mailed your sweetheart a Valentine's card, take heart, because the original holiday for lovers was on May 3 and, in addition, there's a commemoration of a St Valentine somewhere in the world every other week.

"We easily could do nothing but celebrate this holiday," said Henry Ansgar Kelly, a Medievalist at the University of California at Los Angeles who has studied the day's origins. "The greeting card manufacturers would probably be thrilled, but it would be hard to get anything else done."

Kelly said that in Medieval times the name Valentine (derived from the Latin word "valour") was so popular that more than 50 Christian martyrs claimed the name.

Chaucer strove to associate the date with a saint's feast day
These various saints - including St Valentine of Bavaria, the patron saint of epilepsy and ailing livestock, and St Valentine, the martyred priest of Rome - all had feast days called "St Valentine's Day."

None of the original Valentine's Days, which literally fell every other week, were associated with romance, Kelly added.

The original romantic Valentine's Day fell on May 3 thanks to the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. In 1381, the author best known for the Canterbury Tales was employed in the court of Richard II. Chaucer's boss had managed to edge out two competitors for the hand of Anne of Bohemia. On May 3, the king announced their engagement.

Chaucer marked the first anniversary of the occasion by writing The Parliament of Fowls, a poem that suggests parallels between human courtship and the mating rituals of birds. "All the wonderful springtime imagery that we associate with the holiday can be found in this poem," said Kelly.

As was customary in his day, Chaucer strove to associate the date with a saint's feast day. In his era, the day was already linked to a reputed discovery in the 4th century of a relic of Christ's crucifixion.

The Catholic Church added to the confusion in 1969
But that association was "a little heavy" for a romantic occasion, Kelly said. So relying on contacts made on a diplomatic mission to Italy, Chaucer learned that May 3 was also the feast day of one St Valentine of Genoa.

Genoa's Valentine lived in the 4th century and was the city's first bishop, although tradition dictated that Chaucer "could project whatever he wanted onto the day," Kelly said.

Even in Chaucer's time, February 14 was the most popular Valentine's Day as it served as collective feast day for at least a dozen different Valentines, both historical and fictional. But the poet wrote three more Valentine's Day poems, all coinciding with the early May date.

The shift of the day of lovers to the more popular Feb. 14 date occurred shortly before the poet's death in 1400. Once established as a day for romance, February 14 began attracting imagery that had long been associated with love, including hearts and cupids.

This also explains why, "for most of the Northern Hemisphere, such Valentine's Day staples as fresh flowers and love birds normally associated with the month of May just aren't consistent with February 14," Kelly said.

The Catholic Church added to the confusion in 1969 by striking St Valentine's Day from its liturgical calendar as part of a series of multicultural reforms that de-emphasized Roman or Italian saints. "The disappeared saints were not de-canonized or declared nonexistent but merely suffered liturgical demotion," Kelly said.

Today, February 14 is the day to celebrate a pair of apostles who translated Christian texts into Slavic.

So what's the historically correct romantic to do?

"I come from Iowa where February is so gloomy that it's known as Suicide Month, so I'd hate to get rid of Valentine's Day," said Kelly, who will celebrate Valentine's Day on both February 14 and May 3. "I'd like to celebrate the holiday on the original date," he said.

"There's really a need for a celebration of love at that time. Mother's Day just doesn't do the trick." - Reuters

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