Carnival season, Chaucer, Easter, Februarius, Februus, Ides of February, Lupercalia, Purification, Simeon's Song of Praise, the Vernal Equinox
Valentine’s Day, la Saint-Valentin, is approaching. My best wishes to all of you.
The Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in CE 496 to be celebrated on 14 February in honour of Saint Valentine of Rome who died on that date in CE 269. The day became associated with romantic love in the 14th and 15th centuries when notions of courtly love flourished, apparently by association with the “lovebirds” of early spring.
Candlemas, or Candlemass, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Feast of the Holy Encounter, is a Christian Holy Day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22–40 and has been celebrated since the 4th century CE. (See Candlemas, Britannica.)
It is reported that Pope Saint Gelasius I (494–96 CE) wanted to replace a “pagan” feast, called Lupercalia (“Lupus” [wolf] and “calida” [warmth]) with a Christian feast. Candlemas would be the new feast, which is celebrated on 2nd February, 40 days after Christmas, and would commemorate three closely related occasions.
- the Purification of the Virgin
- the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple of Jerusalem
- the Meeting of the Lord, or the Holy Encounter (see Simeon, Gospel of Luke, Wikipedia)
In obedience to Mosaic law, Mary had to be purified 40 days after giving birth, which falls on 2nd February. Moreover, Mary had to present her firstborn to God. Finally, Simeon, who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before his death, recognized the Messiah. It was Jesus. Having seen Jesus, he said “now we dismiss.” These are the words of a canticle entitled Nunc dimittis.
Candlemas, la Chandeleur, takes places during Carnival season. Carnival is a Christian festivity that starts on Epiphany (6 January) and ends on Ash Wednesday, or the day after Mardi Gras, a day of revelry and merriment. An image inserted below, a drawing or sanguine, depicts a celebration of the Lupercalia occuring at the end of the 16th century.
Moreover, it has been reported that Pope Gelasius I wanted to suppress the ancient Roman festival of the Lupercalia. The Lupercalia was a festival of fertility and purification which had given its name “dies februatus,” from Februatus, to the month of February. The Lupercalia was not related to the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Candlemas, the new feast. Valentine’s Day used to commemorate a St Valentine, a martyr. The feast took place during the Ides of February.
As a romantic feast, Valentine’s Day was all but invented by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340s – 25 October 1400) who called the day “seynt” Valentine’s Day.
Chaucer was a prisoner during the Hundred Years’ War. When he was released, he took to England the French Roman de la Rose, a work of literature that epitomizes courtly love. However, it was an exchange. Charles d’Orléans, who was detained in England for 25 years during the Hundred Years’ War, took to France not only poems he had written referring to Valentine, but also the lore of Valentine’s Day as it existed in England. According to Chaucer, birds mated on 14 February.
In The Parlement of Foules (1382), Chaucer wrote:
For this was on seynt Volantynys dayGeoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
[“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]
Valentine’s day took place near the Ides of February. We have noted that the degree of lightness and darkness has governed the dates of festivities since the beginning of time. Consequently, Christian festivities would take place at the same time as “pagan” festivities, which they usually replaced, but not altogether. Carnival is a Western Christian festive season ending on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, or on Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday itself.
The Ides of February
The Ides of a month fall on the 15th day of that month. February being the shortest month, its Ides fell earlier. They fell on approximately the 13th of February and would include Lupercalia, a word combining the above-mentioned “lupus” and “calida.” (See Lupercalia, Wikipedia.) The better-known Ides are the Ides of March, “the 15th day of the Roman month of Martius[,]” a day associated with the assassination of Julius Caesar who developed the Julian Calendar. (See The Ides of March, Wikipedia.)
The Gregorian Calendar
There came a point when festivities taking place in February no longer matched the seasons, Easter in particular. Therefore, Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar is the better match to the seasons or lightness and darkness. It is based on the Jewish calendar. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582. However, Gregorian Chant (cantus planus, plainsong) does not refer to Pope Gregory XIII. It refers to Pope Gregory I. The day on which Easter is celebrated must be determined every year, hence the adjective “moveable.” Easter matches, more or less, the vernal equinox.
As noted above, Valentine’s Day’s proper Christian source is the commemoration of a martyr named Valentine. But there is evidence that Lupercalia remains a festivity. (See Beware the Ides of February, Psychology Today.)
In ancient Roman religion, Februus, whose name means “purifier,” was the god of purification and Februarius, the month of February. Epiphanytide ends on Candlemas, but Carnival season continues until the very festive and equinoctial Mardi Gras.
Posts on Love Celebrated, Page
Feast & Liturgy, Page
Sources and Resources
La Vraie Histoire de la Saint-Valentin
Beware the Ides of February
Love to everyone 💕
© Micheline Walker
8 February 2021
Thank you ! Valentine’s Day not only for lovers but friends
In Japan ladies offer chocolates to their friends, masculine too
I have not seen that first Rembrandt before; and didn’t know of Chaucer’s imprisonment.
Both Chaucer and Charles d’Orléans were imprisoned during the Hundred Years’ War. Ironically, both writers, Chaucer mainly, contributed to establishing Valentine’s Day. Charles d’Orléans spread the lore of Valentine’s Day at the court of France. I had put a different image at the top of my post, but Rembrandt’s was the better selection. It’s an excellent example of ténébrisme, but there is light where Simeon is depicted. Simeon recognized the Messiah. Chaucer was detained very briefly. Charles d’Orléans lived at the home of the person who captured him, but he could not leave England for 25 years. He was a Prince of the Blood and his son would be King of France, as Louis XII.