A Second Opinion: ‘Courtly Love’ in New Age Spain!

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 Nowadays, the young and the young-at-heart fight against societal norms and traditions. And “commercial” holidays like Saint Valentine’s Day just don’t seem to have the pull they once had in more Romantic times. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the young still fall in love, still “go steady”, still want fidelity in their relationships! Perhaps we need another Juan Ruiz to guide the new generation, humorously, in the heartrending and heartening ways of True Love!

By Mary Foran

What can a foreigner tell Spain about the Art of Love, when Spaniards practically wrote the books on the subject? These include The Book of Good Love by Juan Ruiz, the Archpriest of Hita, circa 1330 a.d. and, of course, Cervantes himself, who dazzled the world with Don Quixote de la Mancha, circa January 16, 1605.

El libro de buen amor is considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish poetry and is a semi-biographical account of the romantic adventures of Juan Ruiz written in 1728 stanzas that are comical, moralistic, bucolic, lyrical, serious, festive, religious and profane! One wonders how the manuscripts, and there have been found three, survived The Inquisition, although Juan Ruiz was savvy enough to begin the book with prayers and a guide as to how to read the work, followed by stories each containing a moral to be learned by the reader and an entertaining comical tale.

Since February has become the month of Romantic Love, it behooves us to remember just how much Spain has contributed to the genre, in literature, and in real life, as many an exchange student will attest!

And since men in the States go all out for Valentine’s Day on February 14th, sending dozens upon dozens of bouquets of Red Roses to their Ladies Fair, (if they know what’s good for them, that is!) then now is a good time to review a little of the History behind the celebration, and to realize that Romance in all its tendernesses has yet to be completely forgotten by the modern world.

According to infoplease.com, Valentine’s Day has Roman roots in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration annually commemorated on February 15th. Pope Gelasius “recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast circa 496, declaring February 14th to be Saint Valentine’s Day, although which St. Valentine this early pope intended to honor remains a mystery.” The author of the infoplease article, Borgna Brunner, says that according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were three early Christian Saints by that name. One was a priest in Rome, another a Bishop in Terni, and a third little is known about except that he met his end in Africa. All three Valentines were said to have been martyred on February 14th.

Valentine of Terni supervising the construction of his basilica at Terni. Will the “right” St. Valentine please forward!

Most scholars, Brunner says, believe that the Saint Valentine of the holiday was a priest who attracted the disfavor of Roman Emperor Claudius II around 270 a.d. Legend tells the story of a Claudius II who had prohibited marriage for young men, claiming that bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine the priest secretly performed marriage ceremonies but was eventually apprehended by the Romans and put to death. In any case, he was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion.

Howsomever, in 1969, the Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar, and totally removed the feast days of Saints whose historical origins were questionable. Saint Valentine was one of the Saints that didn’t make the grade. Most likely the early Church associated the day with AGAPE(Christian Love) as opposed to EROS (passionate love).

Then comes Chaucer

Apparently, it was not until the 14th century that the Christian Feast Day became definitively associated with romantic love. A UCLA medieval scholar, Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine, contends that it was Chaucer who first linked the 14th with Romance.

Geoffrey “Parliament of Fowls” Chaucer

It was in 1381 when Chaucer composed a poem in honor of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, linking the Feast Day with the Royal Engagement and the mating season of birds in “The Parliament of Fowls”.

Over centuries, the holiday evolved into a frenzy of gift-giving and the exchange of homemade cards, made of lace, ribbons, and featuring cupids and hearts, with the tradition spreading to the American colonies. Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and native of Worcester, Massachusetts, is credited with mass-producing Valentine cards in America, starting the tradition that has become a booming commercial success even to this day. According to the Greeting Card Association, 25% of all cards sent each year are Valentines!

And another Valentine Day tidbit:

In the Philippines, the tradition is for brides and grooms to say their “I do’s” on Saint Valentine’s Day, en masse!  Will the GP be invited to a Wedding?

Nowadays, the young and the young-at-heart fight against societal norms and traditions, and often might just toss engagements and marriages out the window! And “commercial” holidays like Saint Valentine’s Day just don’t seem to have the pull they once did in more Romantic times. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the young still fall in love, still “go steady”, still want fidelity in their relationships, and still realize that children might be the result of their dalliances! Perhaps we need another Juan Ruiz to spring forth from somewhere to guide the new generation, humorously, in the heartrending and heartening ways of True Love!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

(Come on, you aguafiestas! Have a Heart!)

 

Images
Featured image/Frank Kovalchek, CC BY2.0
Cover, Bood of True Love, Fair use
St Valentine of Terni, PD