Northern Drive to St Lucy

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Historical Underpinning of Valentine's Day

According to British history which I find never boring to say the least, Henry V was one of the great warrior kings of medieval England. He was very much loved by his subjects. He was born September 16, 1387 so his astrological sign placed him at Virgo. His father was King Henry IV (Bolingbroke) and Mary Bohun, daughter of the Earl of Hereford was his mother. He was their eldest son.

The Prince of Wales, for that was his title before he became King Henry V, fought many wars successfully. He was adept with the bow and arrow. He became King of England at the tender age of 26 years precisely in the year 1413. However, he was very experienced in raging and fighting wars from a very early age. His expansionist ideas moved him into recapturing the lands in France held by his ancestors and laid claim to the French throne. His fame skyrocketed with his victory against the French at the Battle of Agincourt, a chapter in his life immortalized in Shakespeare's play. This battle led the French into agreeing to the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420. Thus, he was recognized as heir to the French throne and he married Catherine, the daughter of the French king, Charles VI of France. This marriage was an important part of the alliance agreed to with the Burgundians, culminating in the Treaty of Troyes which recognized King Henry V as heir to the French Throne. King Henry V returned to England with Catherine after a period of three and a half years, the time frame was February 1421. In June he returned to France and died suddenly on 31 August 1422. His nine month old son succeeded him as King Henry VI. John Lydgate continued his close association with the new King of England, Henry VI.

Now let's back peddle a bit here. Before the Prince of Wales ascended to the throne of England he met John Lydgate who studied at Gloucester College, the Benedictine house at Oxford. The Prince of Wales recognized Lydgate's potential as a Lancastrian propagandist . Before he became King Henry V a year later, in 1412 he commissioned John Lydgate to work on his "Troy Book" (1412-1420). It was a translation and expansion of "Guido delle Colonne' Historia destructionis Troiae". This was the Prince of Wales' way of ensuring that the great epic about the Trojan War would live on as it were in "oure tonge". By literary circles, the "Troy Book" is rarely viewed as an epic , per se, but rather a collection of information about the political and moral counsel laced with mythical thought that linked England with Troy. Lydgate's poetic structure has some semblance of the Chaucerian iambic pentameter verses, but varied in some cases by Lydgate's improvised poetic devices as the structure demanded. John Lydgate who was in addition to being a writer, poet, translator was a Benedictine monk and rose to the rank of a Benedictine Priest. He was educated at the Benedictine Monastery of Bury St. Edmund's. The archives shows the year of his birth at 1370 but I'm hard pressed to find the months of his birth and death. However, the records do show that he died in 1451.

Essentially one could not be wrong in saying that King Henry V looked upon John Lydgate as his Poet Laureate. Why, we have the historical framework that shows King Henry V employed him to be his writer, translator and poet. John Lydgate was a prolific poet and wrote many love poems. Hence, it would be no fallacy in believing that Prince of Wales soon to be King Henry V of England instructed Lydgate to write for him love letters, poems and notes. Throughout the time he was engaged in wars with France and courting Catherine Valois, the daughter of the French King, Charles VI it is purported that he instructed John Lydgate to write a love note and send it to her on Valentine's Day. One might well say that this act of King Henry V triggered the practice of sending love notes to friends and loved ones on February 14, handed down from medieval times and still persists in the 21st Century. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.

Well as I prepare this blog, it is Saturday, February 7, 2009 and Valentine's Day is seven days away. Even though it is not a public holiday in Barbados that does not diminish its impact on the general activities of all Barbadians. Barbadians of all walks of life relish Valentine's Day. Barbados was once a British colony so whatever transpired in England found its way to our shores. And being called "Little England" said it all. Traditions handed down from England still hold true even though Barbados looks after its own affairs since 1966. With that said, in England, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. Then, by the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged - so typical of the Victorian Era. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.

So yes, Barbadians are gearing up for this day of love and romance; romance for the fortunate, I'm smiling. Students across the island are busy preparing their valentines to be distributed to shut-ins on Valentine's Day along with the many red roses they will be handing out. Schools do have their Valentine's Day project well organized. Across the island stores are well stocked with all types of candy, chocolates, red roses and gifts for all types of shoppers for their various valentines. There are many valentine fetes organized by various social groups, religious organizations, individuals and lovers, all in the name of Saint Valentine. The question that comes to mind is this. Who is this mysterious Saint and why do we celebrate this holiday. History does not give any guarantee as to the origin of Valentine's Day. There is the consensus though, that the history of Valentine's Day and its patron Saint - is shrouded in mystery. What is known is that February has long been acclaimed the month of romance and goes back to a pagan festival known as Lupercalia.

In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleaned by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout the interior. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman funders Romulus and Remus. The festival got on its way when members of the luperci, an order of Roman priests, gathered at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome were believed to have been cared for by lupa, a she-wolf. The priests sacrificed a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. The boys sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently they slapped both women and fields of crops with the goat-hide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. The legend goes on to say that later in the day, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial which probably occurred around 270 A.D, others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'Christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.

Now the puzzling questions in your mind perhaps are these. Who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? We do know though, that even today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus all of whom were martyred. However, we are again left with a number of legends. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men--his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Another legend would have it that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

This other legend about Valentine is my favourite. According to this legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl--who may have been his jailer's daughter--who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and , most importantly, romantic icon. It is perhaps no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular Saints in England and France.

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Haiti Under Rubble from 7.0 Earthquake

Natural disasters whenever and wherever they occur impact on all of our lives. The Good Book says we are our brothers and sisters keepers lead by the Holy Spirit. Hence, we must do our part when disaster shows its ugly face. Any assistance, great or small, given from generous and loving hearts has equal weight. I'm passing on this information I received that Barbadians can go to First Caribbean Bank to donate to the Disaster Relief Fund for Haiti. The banking information is shown below:

First Caribbean Bank Account--2645374-- Cheques can be written to: HELP #2645374

For more information click on this link

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti.

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