Friday, 13 February 2015

Saints for Valentine

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.

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