From MusiCB3 with love

Waiting for Valentine’s Day.
Naughty Cupid / Henry Miller

Next Thursday is the Feast of St. Valentine. In the Anderson Room we have a pop-up exhibition celebrating St. Valentine’s Day, with some lovely examples of Victorian Valentine’s music, and an unusual “naval” Valentine celebrating an all-too-real battle (more on that on MusiCB3 in a few weeks’ time).

Sarah has collected a selection of Valentine’s related music, and has been investigating the not so saccharine story of the “real” St. Valentine.

According to legend, Valentine was a Roman priest, who was imprisoned for helping persecuted Christians. Interrogated in person by the Emperor Claudius II, Valentine so impressed him, that Claudius tried to persuade him to recant. Valentine refused however, and instead attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity. A later story asserts that prior to his execution on 14th February 270 A.D. Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius; and converted his household to Christianity.

Early records relating to his life and work were most likely destroyed during the time of the Emperor Diocletian. Some time during the next two centuries the Passio Marii et Marthae added to the story of St. Valentine, associating a church in the city of Rome with his martyrdom.

A possible link between Valentine and his current association with love is the story that he wore an amethyst ring (not uncommon for bishops in the early church, as amethyst was believed to be an effective prophylactic against drunkenness) ; Valentine’s ring however included an engraving of Cupid, encouraging those who saw it, to ask Valentine to perform their marriage ceremonies – this at a time when under Roman law, young people were forbidden to marry.

Inscribed amethyst intaglio gold ring. Cupid seated on ground (left), bound by arms to trophy behind him.
1913,0307.178, AN425947001
Copyright British Museum.
Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license

Amethysts were prized in Rome. Intaglio jewellery was popular, with Cupid being a particular favourite. It is believed that this association between Valentine and amethysts led to the stone becoming the birthstone for February; it can’t have been unrelated that his ring also featured Cupid, so adding to the association of Valentine with love.

Here at MusiCB3 we’ve found plenty of secular music celebrating love, and more specifically St. Valentine’s Day. We’ve yet to find any sacred music associated with him, though perhaps MusiCB3 readers have some ideas? Do let us know.

Enjoy St. Valentine’s Day, and do come and see our pop-up exhibition in the Anderson Room, which runs until February 14th.


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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1 Response to From MusiCB3 with love

  1. Pingback: A Valentine for the Navy | MusiCB3 Blog

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