Friday, February 14, 2014

St. Valentine, Amethysts, and Valentine's Day


by Angela Magnotti Andrews Today we celebrate what has become known as the Lovers' Holiday. This day, marked primarily by red and pink hearts, is actually historically symbolized by the purple crystal amethyst and the death of a saint. St. Valentine of Terni was beheaded on this day in the late 3rd century. Most of what is known about St. Valentine is lore, as little was recorded about his life and habits. His legendary claim to fame was his aide to the Christians at a time when Christian service was considered an act of treason by the Roman Empire. Among the services he was said to perform for these persecuted Christians was to perform marriage rites for them. According to the custom of Bishops of that time, Valentine reportedly wore an amethyst intaglio ring inscribed with the likeness of Cupid. It is said that this ring also captured the attention of Roman soldiers, who asked him to perform marriage rites for them, as well. This was also a crime against the Empire.


 Reportedly imprisoned for these infractions, he was placed under house arrest, at which time he engaged his jailer in a discussion about Jesus. Word of his claims reached the Judge, who told him that if the bishop would heal his blind daughter he would be granted whatever he desired. The judge's daughter received her sight, and good to his word, he arranged for the requested release of all his Christian captives. St. Valentine's continued service to the gospel of Christ landed him in jail once again. This time he was taken before the Emperor Claudius. Though Claudius is said to have enjoyed his company, Valentine overstepped his bounds when he attempted to lead the Roman ruler to Christ. His execution was decreed, and he was beaten with clubs and then beheaded.

After his death, the Church instituted the Feast of Saint Valentine, which they celebrate in July. The connection between St. Valentine and the holiday of lovers seems to emerge in the 14th century, alluded to in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and Otto de Granson. It is difficult to tell, without more research, whether it was St. Valentine's custom of marrying young folks or whether it was his fondness for the amethyst jewelry, which became known in the Middle Ages as the stone of earthly happiness, that linked St. Valentine with lovers. Either way, his holiday is now the most celebrated for romance. Incidentally, according to Medieval custom, when a lady presented an amethyst heart set in silver to her knight or her husband, it was believed to ensure good fortune and the greatest possible happiness for the couple {cited}.

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