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Saint Valentine was a martyr by Katia Elkaim

Dernière mise à jour : 4 mars 2021

One day, a long time ago, in the courtyard of a Long Island school, I found my name engraved in a heart-shaped candle, among a few hundred candles all addressed to someone.

To me, the visiting 15-year-old European girl, the meaning of this celebration had been explained with pride, and I had found it cruel.

But suddenly, before my eyes, my name in wax sounded like an act of clemency from fate, saving those around me the embarrassment of finding a comforting explanation for the lack of interest I was arousing.

Appearances, at least, were saved.

Anyone who knows that he or she is loved has the luxury of criticising this tradition, which is considered to be commercial, because, let's face it, it scars the wallets of the stingy and hurts the egomaniacs.

The symbolism of February 14th finds its source in England. According to a peasant belief, abundantly relayed by Chaucer, the birds would have chosen this precise day to mate. I have always known that most humans have the brain of a sparrow, but let's admit that there may be some truth in this, since the stork did indeed drop me off nine months later in my mother's arms.

As we all know, England is a land of innovation, and it often takes only a traveler to bring the new trend to the continent. In the 14th century, this traveler was none other than Othon de Grandson, buried in Lausanne Cathedral. This knight-poet of the Hundred Years' War, a rhymer noticed by Chaucer, spread the festival of Valentine's Day throughout the Latin world.

While modern couples take advantage of this day to tell each other of their love, which allows them to say nothing at all the rest of the year, medieval valentinage was much more fun: each one drew someone else by lot for a day or a year of libertine love where women, especially married ones, were free of their bodies. I suppose that if the lot was unfavorable, the year would appear to be a very long one.

At the same time - and for a long time - those who couldn't write signed official documents with an "X" and a mark from their lips as a sign of good faith. The lips disappeared but the "X" remained in the thousands of messages that were sent to each other, unless the typist didn't find the button on his smartphone always too small and sent "Y" or "Z" instead.

But who was this Saint Valentine? We don't know for sure, because three characters claim this distinction. The first was Valentine of Rome martyred in the third century and buried on the Via Flaminia, Valentine of Terni, also victim of torture and buried in the same place, and Valentine of Raetia, preacher of the fifth century. Historians believe that it is only one and the same person, this trilogy resulting from a total confusion of pilgrims. The only one who would count would be Valentin de Terni, who married couples in secret, despite the prohibition of Emperor Claudius II who wanted to avoid his soldiers the distractions of Cupid. He was arrested, tortured and then executed for falling in love with his sightless jailer, to whom he would have restored vision. Love is blind indeed!

Moreover, one can wonder if this quotation, attributed to Plato who spoke more about self-esteem, does not come directly from our Valentine of Terni.

In any case, Valentine's Day celebrates the martyrdom of a man, the blindness of a woman who has regained her sight and lost her lover, the loneliness of those who are far from the people they love, the abyss of mismatched couples, the despair of those who love no one and the glory of a few passions that are satisfied outside this day and need not be on the calendar. In spite of this, my girlie heart races and turns towards a loved one to whom I say: Happy Valentine's day.

Photo by Nathan Martins

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