Saints and Lovers
I write medieval thrillers and have long had a fascination for all things medieval. One of the aspects of medieval life that has always intrigued me has been people’s devotion to saints. I’ve touched on it in a previous blog post A Dead Man's Tongue, where I looked at saint’s relics. Hang on a minute, I hear you say. This blog is for Valentine’s Day. Should I be looking at preserved body parts here? I think not. But I would like (like our medieval forebears would have) to look at the saints that might appeal to us at this time when all thoughts turn to love. You might be surprised by the findings.
Let’s kick off with the saint who names the day. Saint Valentine himself. As with many saints, the origins of who he was (and there is evidence there may have been three saints) are vague. But don’t expect him to have been elevated to sainthood because of any kind of special involvement with lovers. Valentine was a holy priest in third century who helped out persecuted early Christians. He was arrested and tried before the prefect of Rome. The prefect tried to make him renounce his faith but Valentine refused. The prefect ordered Valentine be beaten with clubs, which still didn’t make him change his mind. He was then beheaded. His execution took place on February 14, about the year 270. Interesting that the record is clear about the date being February 14, but a bit hazy about the year!
This can be explained when we fast forward to medieval times. The concept of courtly love with aloof, desirable women was hugely popular during this period. Troubadours celebrated these women through song and poems. In the fourteenth century, Geoffrey Chaucer brought the popularity of courtly love to new heights with his poem The Parlement of Fowles. This poem first introduced the idea of Valentine’s Day being a day for lovers. The Cour Amoreuse was founded in the French Medieval Court, supposedly in honour of women. It first met on Valentine’s Day in 1400, ruled over by a ‘Prince of Love’ who was a professional poet. Noble ladies heard various love-poems and presented prizes to the winners.
But what’s interesting is that in the canon of Catholic saints, Saint Valentine isn’t the saint of wistful lovers in the throes of a new romance. He is the patron saint for those who have already found their perfect partner. Being the patron for those seeking love actually belongs to the lesser known saint, Saint Raphael. Saint Raphael, according to legend, helped Tobias enter into marriage with Sarah, who had seen seven previous bridegrooms perish on the eve of their weddings. (That has to be a run of bad luck if there ever was one.) Saint Raphael is the patron saint for what is called happy encounters (how sweet!).
You could of course always try the Welsh Saint Dwynwen. She is the Welsh patron saint of love and friendship, who lived during the fifth Century and was one of the 24 daughters of King of Wales, Brychan Brycheiniog. (When I came across those statistics, I felt perhaps that Brychan should patron saint of something, but I wasn’t quite sure what). Dwynwen was devout and very beautiful, and was broken hearted when her father refused to let her marry the man she loved. When praying for help, she was visited by an angel and God granted her three wishes, one of which was that the hopes and dreams of lovers would be met. Dwynwen founded a convent on Llanddwyn, on the west coast of Anglesey, where she was joined by other broken-hearted women. After her death in 465AD, a well named after her became a place of pilgrimage and it remains there today.
There is also of course related saints: Saint Agnes, patron saint of virginity. Saint Anne, the patron saint of fertility and childbirth and Saint Gerard Majella, patron saint of motherhood, both good to call on when Saint Agnes has gone off duty. And of course, good old Saint Fotino, the patron saint of erectile dysfunction, who has a reassuring big white beard.
So, lovers of love, you are not restricted to just Valentine on February 14. You can take your pick of saints- just like the medievals did!
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