I know I'm a day early, but I want to wish you a Happy St. Valentine’s Day. I thought I’d use today, Friday 13th, as a better day to question the whole St. Valentine patronage and not spoil any romantic ideas you may have planned tomorrow. I should also refer you back to a previous article where I explained that we’re actually celebrating it on the wrong day.
The lgbt community has
reason to celebrate this St. Valentine’s Day more than it has before,
because the last twelve months or so has seen a huge positive movement towards
giving lgbt couples the legal freedom to marry. The movement is still on-going
and it is to be hoped that more significant moves can be made during 2015.
Another reason why this
year can be celebrated more openly (on whatever day you choose to be the
correct one) is because it’s the first time that St. Valentine’s patronage over
lovers in the UK has applied to lgbt couples.
Let me explain. It’s all
connected with the misdirected homophobia applied to the church’s attitude to gay
sex. Official Christian doctrine (apart from that in the loony extremist
churches like the Westbro Baptists) has said that sex outside marriage in
unacceptable and sinful. It doesn’t matter who you’re having sex with –
opposite or same sex. The only acceptable sex, as stated in the traditional
Christian wedding ceremony, is between married couples (other religions have
their own doctrines on when sex is acceptable). Because gay men and lesbians could
not legally marry (only a government can decide what is legal, not the church),
all sex they had was sinful, just as it was with unmarried straight
couples. The Church made no discrimination when it came to unmarried sex, they
demonised it as fornication, adultery or sodomy. Straight and gay sex outside
married were condemned equally. The fact that governments refused to let gay couples get married was irrelevant - they were unmarried, and that's what mattered for the church.
So it is to be expected
that when St. Valentine became a patron saint of lovers it was for married
couples, or those engaged to be married. There has never been a Christian
patron saint for straight unmarried lovers, casual relationships or lgbt
couples. I suppose the nearest patron saint for lgbt couples and love (albeit,
platonic and celibate) is St. Aelred of Rievaulx. Now that lgbt couples can
marry he could reasonably be elevated as a patron of gay marriage. I can’t see
the Pope making that decision in the foreseeable future though, can you? St.
Aelred’s feast day is on January 12th, perhaps a bit too close to
Christmas to be adopted as a new day to celebrate same-sex love. But what if
you don’t want a Christian saint as a patron of love?
It’s generally accepted
that St. Valentine’s Day, as a day specifically for lovers, was created by
Geoffrey Chaucer and his gay friend Sir John Clanvowe in the 1380s. Sir John
himself was able to go through a form of marriage with his male partner. In a
church ceremony that was virtually identical to a wedding it is probable that
he married his partner, Sir William Neville, in what historians often refer to
as “wedded brotherhood”. I’ve written before about the evidence of their
relationship is marked on their joint gravestone.
In these more secular
days, when even the popular celebration of St. Valentine’s Day refuses to
include his saintly title, it could be more appropriate for non-religious
non-Christian couples to adopt Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville as the
patrons of lovers.
Various publications and
the media keep trotting out that old myth about the celebration of St.
Valentine’s Day on 14th February is a Christian takeover of the
Roman pagan festival of Lupercalia. In fact they’ve said it so often that
people actually think historians have proved it! The fact is that the first
time anyone linked the two together was in the 1800s when a hagiographer (a student
of saints and their veneration) noticed that the two events coincided. He
wasn’t a historian and he didn’t look for proof. He made the link based purely
on the date, not research, despite the fact that the original St. Valentine’s Day was
celebrated in May!
After almost totally
ruining the romance of St. Valentine’s Day let me return to the reason why we
can truly celebrate with passion this year. This is the first St. Valentine’s
Day when lgbt people here in England, Scotland and Wales can declare their love
for each other with a marriage proposal. And it’s the first year that St.
Valentine himself can smile over them. Falling on a Saturday this year I’m sure
there are lots of lgbt couples who have chosen to tie the knot and marry on St.
Valentine’s Day. And as long as commercialism runs the world economy there’ll
be no shortage of businesses making even more of an effort to sell their
products to gay couples.
So, if you’re lucky enough
to have someone to celebrate your love with tomorrow here are several patrons
to choose. For the traditionalists there’s St. Valentine. For those who want a
more lgbt patron there’s St. Aelred of Rievaulx. And for those who don’t want
any Christian saint at all there’s Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville.
I hope you all have a
totally loved-up day tomorrow.