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Saint Valentine and His Day in France

Saint Valentine and the origins of romantic St. Valentine's Day

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Couple at St. Valentin, France

Saint Valentine's Day and romantic France go hand in hand, though England has a role to play in establishing the connection of Saint Valentine with love. There are, of course, many myths and legends swirling around the origins. In the Middle Ages, the exchange of love letters and love tokens on Valentine’s day is thought to have originated with the start of the mating season for birds. Soon it was the turn of the troubadours and poets in the 14th and 15th centuries who extolled the virtues of courtly love.

The English claimed the first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love. It appears in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote: “For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate”. But as he was probably referring to May, it’s the French who take the honors for the first official recognition.

In Paris a High Court of Love was established on Valentine’s Day in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts and betrayals with judges selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading. And the earliest surviving valentine itself is a 15th-century poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife as he languished in the Tower of London. He had been captured after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and rather sadly and pensively wrote to her: “I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine.”

The French also invented a particular Valentine’s Day custom called ‘drawing for’. Unmarried people gathered in houses facing each other and called the name of their chosen partner through the windows. It all seemed very romantic, but the charm was spoilt when the man decided his choice didn't come up to scratch and proceeded to desert his Valentine. Naturally, the women retaliated and the custom developed of building a huge bonfire where they burnt the image of the now hated male while yelling abuse. It became a rather embarrassing heated event, so was wisely banned by the French Government.

Today Saint Valentine’s Day is celebrated throughout France -- a good excuse for some indulgent chocolate and gift buying and a grande bouffe of a meal.

But France has a Valentine Day event nobody else can claim. There's a little village called St. Valentin, in Indre, in the central Val de Loire Region which makes the most of the February event, celebrating with an annual festival taking place from February 12th to 14th.

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