St Valentine and the Ides of February

 In Dark Heart, History

Dark Heart, my Roman-era romantic suspense will be published on May 12 through Dragonblade Publishing. It’s available for pre-order now!

Who is Saint Valentine?

His name is now a byword for romance and all things heart and flowers on February 14, but there is so much more to this man than just romance.

First of all, there is more than one St Valentine.

The first St. Valentine was a physician-priest who lived in Rome in the third century. He joined with St. Marius in efforts to comfort the martyrs of the persecution of Christians by Emperor Claudius II. St. Valentine himself was arrested, beaten, condemned to death and beheaded for his beliefs on February 14, AD 270. He was buried on the Flaminian Way and Pope Julius I later built a basilica over St. Valentine’s tomb. His relics were moved to the Church of St. Praxedes in the thirteenth century. It’s believed that this is the  St. Valentine after which the day was named.

The second St. Valentine was Bishop of Interamna (present-day Terni, 60 miles outside of Rome). He, too, suffered under the persecution of Claudius II. He was arrested, scourged, and beheaded. No more is known of him.

The third St. Valentine was martyred in Africa with several companions and that is all that’s known about him.

For Dark Heart, I’ve chosen the Bishop of Interamna as my Valentin (which is his name in the Latin) and he become a friend and champion to my two lovers, Marcus and Kyna.

According to Father Frank O’Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, St Valentine was an anti-establishment rebel.

“He was a Roman Priest at a time when there was an emperor called Claudius who persecuted the church at that particular time,” Father O’Gara explains. ” He also had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died.”

Not many people know today that Valentin, this physician-priest (ah, no wonder Kyna, being a doctor herself was so fond of him), is also the patron saint of epilepsy.  Saint Valentine had been blessed with the gift of healing – specifically epilepsy.

At this time three pagan youths, Proculus, Ephebus and Apollonius, came from Athens to Rome to study. They found a tutor named Craton, and lived in his home. Craton’s son Cherimon fell grievously ill, and his spine was so contorted that his head was bent down to his knees. Craton asked Bishop Valentine to help his sick son.

The holy bishop went into the sick child’s room and prayed fervently all night. When day came, the happy parents saw their son had been healed. They believed in Christ and were baptized with all their household.

Although two different men, both of the Valentines were executed on the same day (February 14), in 270 AD or 278 AD, (depending on sources).

So why the 14th?

Located in Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome is believed to be the skull of the 3rd century AD St Valentine.

The Romans held great store in ‘lucky and unlucky days’.

The Roman calendar operated through the use of three main days (the Kalends, the Nones, and the Ides), in reference to which all dates were given. Ides came, either on the thirteenth or fifteenth day of the month, on the day after the full moon.

As most of us know, the Ides of March was particularly unlucky for Julius Caesar…

To the Romans, odd days were lucky days and the three even days after Ides were particularly considered unlucky. The first even day after the 13th of Ides, is of course, the 14th, so it seems likely then, that the date for execution was chosen deliberately to curse those who were condemned to death.

This also makes particular sense considering the reason why our Valentines were killed. They were martyred for refusing to renounce Christ which was a major political affront to the establishment since the politics and religion of Ancient Rome were indivisible.

That’s a theme I touch on lightly in Dark Heart, but it’s one I’m thinking of exploring further in the second sequel.

Excerpt

Marcus looked at the tall candelabras and judged how far the candles might have to burn down before he could make his excuses and leave. He reclined on the nearest bench and forced his attention to the conversation.

“Well, one thing is for certain,” announced Gaius, reaching across for a small wedge of cheese. “There is little more the Senate can do. We’ve made our protest and the Praetorian Guard have told us outright their loyalty is to the new emperor. So Cato will go to trial and it does not bode well for him.”

Another guest, Senator Flavius, an older man and lean – almost to the point of looking emaciated in Marcus’ opinion – was in the process of assisting his rather contrasting wife onto a lectus as he responded.

“We’ve done our duty by him and our new emperor to the best of our abilities,” Flavius said, almost defensively. “Neither can have issue on that account.”

The man seated himself beside his rotund spouse, a dark-haired woman in a deep blue stola, revealing every ample curve. With an indulgent smile, Flavius handed her a fig and she devoured it greedily.

“As for Cato,” he expounded further, “I don’t know what’s gotten into the man. He just sits in his room writing papers and reading, always reading.

“We’ve taken auguries on his behalf — he refuses to do so for himself.”

“Mind you, none of them have been favorable,” the wife chimed in around a mouthful of fruit.

Lucius clapped his hands together sharply and indicated more wine for his goblet.

“And the gods are annnnngry,” he said, drawing out the last word. Alongside him, Livia giggled.

“Don’t mock, boy!” demanded Gaius.

Lucius slammed down the goblet and purple liquid splashed over the rim, running down the carved decoration of nymphs and pooling on the table.

“It’s you who don’t get it! The gods want men like Cato dead! The sooner he’s thrown down the Gemonian Stairs like the traitor dog he is, the better.”

An uncomfortable silence descended on the dinner party. Marcus watched the other guests express looks of pity or sympathy to Gaius; others pretended to find the exquisitely painted frescos around the dining room suddenly fascinating.

No wonder.

Cato was well-respected, a friend to many in the room. Any eccentricities should be excused. To wish him harm, let alone the ignoble death of a traitor, was shocking. Marcus himself might have been taken aback if he had not been already privy to Lucius’ thoughts.

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