Saturday 13 February 2010

St Valentine’s Day, Tokens of Affection and Love Spoons

It seems a little unfair somehow that the Saints of yore are now celebrated in so many ways and we forget that they were probably martyred or some other terrible death befell them. On top of that there always seem to be two or three ‘saints’ with the same name: as in the case of St Valentine – a priest of Rome, a Bishop in Umbria or a martyr in the Roman province of Africa. And – why is the poor chap now known only as Valentine – losing his title of Saint?

Victorian Valentine's Card

It appears that Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle in the fourteenth century were the perpetrators of the myth surrounding St Valentine and his association with romantic love, as set out in Chaucer’s “Parlement of Foules (1382) (Assembly of Fowls); but this may be the result of misinterpretation. Chaucer wrote the following lines to honour Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia his betrothed (they were only 14 years old):

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Wha euery bryd comyth there to chese his make”

Shakespeare had Ophelia ruefully mention Valentine’s Day in Hamlet in 1600 some two hundred years after Chaucer. Perhaps the French had one of the quaintest links – the ritual for the High Court of Love was established on Valentine’s Day in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of poetry reading!

Saint Valentine of Terni oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni, from a 14th century French manuscript

The earliest surviving valentine is a fifteenth-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, who was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415, to his wife which commences:

"Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée ..."

During the 1800s printers had begun publishing sentimental verses for young lovers to use, then along came “mechanical valentines”, while the reduction in postal rates ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing valentines. This led to another Unintended Consequence in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian – the sudden appearance of racy verse!

Paper Valentines began to be assembled in factories made with real lace and ribbons; paper lace followed on, while talented lovers painted and wrote prose and poetry to their loved ones. In the1800s the legend and lore of the language of flowers were included, some with hand-coloured and detachable flowers containing a hidden message behind each, others containing perfumed sachets, and all of them bearing words of love.

Valentine's Day postcard, circa 1910

Eugene Rimmel, the celebrated parfumier, also specialised in Valentines. From his sweetly-scented emporium in London in the late 1860s and 1870s hearts and darts, and loves and doves, encircled with gilt and paper lace, secured with satin bows, were dispatched to all parts of Britain.

Along came the 20th century when the ease of posting cards encouraged the industry to new growth levels – ever expanding the possibilities for a retail explosion ... more cards, chocolates, flowers etc

The British postal strike of 1971 discouraging the posting of cards, with their love messages, encouraged one innovative evening paper to suggest that the sending of flowers might be an alternative – ie circumventing the Post Office. This different approach to Valentine’s Day provided the florists with a new trade .. especially a single red rose in a ribbon-tied box delivered to the girl of their dreams; since then flowers abound at this time of year, though cards have too made a comeback.

I hope you all get a bunch of wonderful red roses ...

Love tokens though have been around through the centuries not necessarily tied in to Valentine’s Day, possibly being influenced by the religious tokens produced in early Christianity. The Love Tokens that caught my eye are the Love Spoons of the Celtic world, which before becoming decorative love symbols, would have shown that the suitor was capable of providing for his future family through woodcarving.

They probably originated from the “cawl” (thick welsh vegetable and meat soup) spoon, which over the generations would have been decorated until it lost its original practical use and became a treasured decorative item to be hung proudly on a wall.

Certain symbols came to have specific meanings or identify the carver – an anchor for a sailor, a horseshoe for luck, a cross for faith, bells for marriage, hearts for love, a wheel supporting a loved one, a lock for security, a flower would mean affection or how about a dragon for protection.

Love spoons are also to be found in Scandinavia and parts of Eastern Europe, which each have their own unique styles and techniques. Wooden spoons or ladles have been found dating back to Iron Age Celts (250 BC); while wooden spoons dating back to the 5th – 8th century Anglo Saxon and the 8th – 11th century Viking invasions have also been found.

Celtic Lovespoon with hearts, lock and wheel

Love has always been the igniter of life .. love starts it, love nurtures, love comforts, love supports and love is with us at the end .... love is all – on Valentine’s Day and for us all for always.

Dear Mr Postman – another 18 cm (7 inches) of snow this week here in Eastbourne seemed to bring us to a standstill once again, fortunately a sunny day yesterday melted a great deal of it, but it’s still very cold. My mother still isn’t well and I’ll get up to see her again today having been laid up myself .. lets hope we can resolve her ailments .. if we can get her hearing back I’d be grateful.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


T. Powell Coltrin said...

Sorry about the snow. Me too. It's become a norm here in MO to walk out of doors and into snow flurries.

Two thoughts on Valentine's Day. First, love should be celebrated every day with respect and consideration, kind words and deeds for all of the people we love-not just the lovers. Secondly, I bet Hallmark Cards here in MO is grateful for this holiday.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. the white stuff almost gone - except huge black clouds out over the English Channel - but they've disappeared somewhere and we have sun! (cold granted). Snow seems to be everywhere - but where it should be .. Vancouver!

Absolutely you're right - love is for everyday and with kindness and consideration. I didn't mention Hallmark - 'cos it's advertising and they have enough of it!! But you're right .. any holiday is an opportunity for cards and more money to be spent commercially ..

Hope you have a happy day tomorrow .. Hilary

Barb Hartsook said...

I love that Celtic Love Spoon! Just that image could be the start of a fun mixed-media piece of art.

I also love how you sum up -- love is the beginning and the end. And the support and food and fertilizer and sun and moon between the beginning and the end. It is hope. And a working fireplace on a cold day. And refreshment. And a stimulant.

Yes, it's between a man and a woman. But it's soooooo much more than that. I have three girls, sons-in-laws, grandkids, sisters, friends online and off -- and my capacity to love just keeps expanding.

I tell my kids, love is a working verb. Valentine's day is fun and all, but it's just a recognition of what should be at work all the time.

Happy Valentines day, Hilary. :)

Joanne said...

Hi Hilary,
I like those Celtic Love Spoons, so rich with symbolism. I think what intrigues me about them is that they seem to be filled with story, each one a different tale for a different individual. Very unique! Happy Valentine's Day to you!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barb .. thanks for that – really appreciate the comments. I too loved the spoon – but we forget that love is the beginning and should be with us at the end .. let alone the food, fertiliser, sun and moon in between .. love those thoughts .. and a fireplace (today please!) .. and all else.

Love of family, friends and “us lot” make life worth living .. just have fun with everyone and a happy love giving day to you too – thank you – love is flowing across the pond to you and yours ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Joanne .. aren't they so rich with symbolism .. I've a postcard here with some on & that's what inspired me to include them today. As you say I guess that's what these tokens of love were in the days gone by .. stories of life worked into wood, or woven into material .. each unique. Thank you - you too have a lovely weekend with family and friends .. love to you too across the pond ...

Paul Maurice Martin said...

"Love" is a word around which there's a great deal of confusion it seems to me. I think that hormones and not love put the romance in "romantic love." That is, the sexes are mutually attractive mentally as well as physically, urging us to mate. So it works well that way.

But I've heard that arranged marriages statistically work out I forget if it's as well or better than those resulting from romance. I don't think romance equates to love - although they can occur simultaneously, which is great and may lead to a fifty year marriage held together by the love...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul .. what you say is correct. In the old days I guess the English used arranged marriages too - at least I think that there was a degree of that - suitable within your class. They can work - I'm sure if both parties know where they're coming from and if both understand the way forward and are kind and compassionate - it's likely they will love in due course.

Zeenat at Positive Provocations wrote a good piece on True Love or Infatuation - What's the Difference? .. here: if you have time to go over ..

Thanks for being here and commenting - I hope you have a Valentine's Day as you would wish - Hilary

Jillian said...

Hi Hilary!! Loved reading this post! That Celtic lovespoon is lovely - I've never heard of them until now! Great info here - I'll be sharing this post with my children for some Valentines Day history! :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jillian .. many thanks and I do hope they enjoy it .. perhaps they'll whittle you a spoon sometime?? The carvings that were done in the past are amazing - if only we had the time to create now - well you do through your cards, which is a lovely way to use various skills - but the old skills are hanging in the balance before they're lost forever. Thank you for being here .. Hilary

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

Thank you for letting us know more about St. Valentines Day. Very nice.

Here in the States we have been getting snow in places that are usually sunny and warm. Places like Florida. It has been strange weather that is for sure.

Have a great day.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. thanks for coming over. Yes - it does seem that the weather is a little strange .. though we're told Spring is 11 days earlier now than half a century ago! Can't say it feels it like that now! But it is lighter for longer ... have a good week - Hilary

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

Hilary, this is great --- I had no idea that the idea of sending flowers really took off in the 70's to circumvent the postal service. I also had no idea that in the 19th century, racy verse first appeared in Valentine's cards. My gosh, some of the cards available now would probably put a few Victorians in their early graves had they access to them!

Wishing you and your mother well; I pray she is able to hear normally this week. ~ Much love ~

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan - great to see you here. Seems it's a rum old life - the way things happen! The racy verse .. suddenly they could post letters or cards .. possibly anonymously .. so opening up all kinds of doors or letter boxes .. and you're right the verses of today probably wouldn't be appreciated either.

Thanks - Mum is not brilliant and still cannot hear .. but we go on - thank you - and much love and hugs to you at this time .. Hilary

Janice Lynne Lundy said...

Wonderful post, Hilary. I love the history update, but even more so I appreciate your closing sentiments on Love. I so agree. Love IS the igniter of life. May Love grace your days and nights - always!

Hugs to Mom. Hope both of you are faring better.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan .. thanks so much. I too loved that thought at the end .. it just puts everything into perspective .. love is all.

We're moving on .. still not ok - but I hope the infections are being kicked into touch .. She is strong. It's the hearing I hope we can sort out sometime soon ..

Thanks for the hugs and thoughts .. to you too in sunny Florida!

Mark said...

There is much history to this day of love celebration. Thanks for sharing!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark .. good to see you - there just is so much history! To all the things that tie in with Valentine's Day .. glad you enjoyed it -thank you .. Hilary

Patricia said...

Hilary this is a fun post and I did not know all that history. I do know that Feb. 14th was picked to celebrate as the official date after the USA declared that date National Potato Chip Day! My grandparents were married on Feb. 14 and were together for over 60 years.
My youngest daughter was born on the 12th so she has 2 celebrations each year!
I got all three of my children love spoon magnets when I visited Cardiff Castle - they are great fun and were appreciated.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. great to see you .. and glad you picked up on a few points of interest. National Potato Chip Day - how HORRIBLE!!!!!

How lovely that your grandparents had such a fantastic marriage and celebrated 60 years, each one of those years on the 14th of Feb.

How lovely that your daughter gets two goes in a week!! So pleased they loved the love spoon magnets when you came over to Wales.

Thanks for being here .. Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Nothing quite like homemade valentine surprises. Whatever you create, as you do so with love, it is always appreciated in timeless ways that defy description.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. I couldn't agree more - special valentines treasured by the receiver for many moons to come. I love natural things - fresh flowers etc and after all love is here for ever to be with us for ever ...