Dinner at the Bors Hede

February 14th, 2014

 

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  In 14th C. France, the Miracles de Notre Dame par personages, were performed annually by the Paris goldsmith guild, including a saint's play about Saint Valentin.2

  There is no clear connection with lovers or birds until Otto de Granson & Geoffrey Chaucer wrote Valentine poetry.  Granson (1346-1397) was a landed knight and amateur poet in the service of John of Gaunt after 1374;  his extant works include seven Valentine poems.  Chaucer also features Valentine's Day in several of his poems, most notably, his Parliament of Fowls (ca. 1380) is "the book of Seint Valentynes Day."3 

  According to studies by Henry Kelly and Jack Oruch, the connection of Valentine's Day with the pairing of lovers was unknown before Granson and Chaucer who virtually originated the occasion as we know it.  Granson seems to be the first to write love poems for Valentine's Day, before 1374, while Chaucer pioneered the crucial involvement of birds.3

Saint Valentine of Terni. A bishop of Terni, suffered martyrdom (beheaded) on this day, about 270 A.D.  His body was buried on the via Flaminia where, in the 4th century, were graves of two martyrs.   Although the Roman Martyrologium assumes that there were two martyrs, there may have been only one person.1  

   The association of fertility and spring renewal with this season harkens back to the 3rd century B.C. with the Roman celebration of Lupercalia,  a festival celebrating the deity Lupercus, identified with Pan, the Greek god.  In Christ's time, the Luperci priests still danced in the streets on their festival day, February 15th.

  Extensive scholarly research has found comparatively little in the legend of the saint to connect him with lovers.  Yet it may be significant that Granson's Balade de Saint Valentin double, which could be the earliest of these poems, makes the most extensive reference in them to the saint and his feast.  The speaker begins by noting that he chose his lady seven and a half years ago, and declares that on this day he once again chooses her;  he invokes the day and the saint in the fourth stanza, which he addresses to Valentine.  Throughout the poem there is no mention of mating birds.3

  Chaucer states, in Parliament of Fowls, that his assembly of birds occurred:  "on seynt Volantynys day When euery byrd comyth there to chese his make" and he makes clear that Nature summons them each year on that day for that purpose.  At the conclusion his birds also address the saint in heaven, "Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte," professing to sing for his sake.

 

   Granson's last poem Songe Saint Valentin, probably after Chaucer, mentions birds.  The next English poems by John Gower (1325-1408) and Sir Thomas Clanvowe speak of the day when birds choose their mates; however, birds do not figure in the next French Valentinian verse, by Christine de Pisan (1364-1430) and Jean de Garencières.3

Valentine's Day 15th to 19th century

1Clemens Jöckle, Encyclopedia of Saints, Alpine Fine Arts Collection, Ltd., London, 1995
2William Kibler & Grover Zinn, eds., Medieval France, an Encyclopedia, Garland Publishing, NY & London, 1995
3James Wimsatt, Chaucer and His French Contemporaries, University of Toronto Press, 1991

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