In the February edition of the
my Young By Name column homes in
on the real meaning of Valentine’s Day
As a lapsed Anglican, I’ve never had saints on my radar, apart from the obvious ones whose special days are pre-printed in our diaries – Andrew, George, Patrick, David, Valentine, etc – and the quartet after whom my old grammar school named its houses: St Anne, St Bride, St Francis and St Mary.
At primary school, our teams were distinguished only by colour: red, blue, green, yellow. On moving up to senior school, I was naturally more interested in the colour of the houses, rather than their saints’ pedigrees. In a kind of synaesthesia of the saints, for me St Bride (my house) will forever be associated with yellow, St Anne green, St Francis red, and St Mary blue.
Strangely, we were never taught anything about our school’s four saints, and we never thought to ask. Nor did we query why in an all-girls’ school we had a single male, St Francis, alongside the female trio.
Top Trumps of Saints
I reckon the school management missed a trick to cement house loyalty. They could have turned the distinguishing features of each saint into a compelling game of Top Trumps:
St Francis:100 points for animal husbandry, 0 for maternal instinct.
I wish I could cite further examples, but my knowledge of even the most famous saints is slim. Just how slim I didn’t realise until doing some research for my latest novel, Murder by the Book** (out in April), which culminates in a murder on 14th February.
It turns out my perception of St Valentine was more Hallmark than historically accurate.
Apparently, asking someone to be your Valentine is nowhere near as appealing an invitation as I’d assumed.
The Fate of the Saint
Legend has it that the Romans made it illegal for marriage ceremonies to be performed for soldiers, on the assumption that having wives would sap their strength and their inclination for war. Valentine, a Christian priest, defied the ban, continuing to perform wedding ceremonies until the Romans arrested him. In jail, in what could be the earliest recorded case of Stockholm Syndrome, Valentine healed his jailer’s daughter’s blindness, after which, not surprisingly, they became friends. When led away to his final fate, he left her a note signed “From Your Valentine”.
His execution was cruelly prolonged: he was beaten and stoned before being beheaded.
So be wary of asking the object of your affections to be your Valentine – they might think you’re inviting them to a fate worse than death.
MORE FUN READS
*More about my visit to the wonderful St Bride’s, the journalists’ church, in this post from my archive
And if I haven’t put you right off romantic fiction, you might enjoy my collection Marry in Haste, currently on special offer at 99p/99c for the ebook, and £4.99 for the paperback.