Sunday, February 14, 2016

Wandering with Saint Valentine

"Many of the current legends that characterise Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love." 
"Saint Valentine of Terni (one of three Saint Valentines) was the patron of affianced couples, bee keepers, greeting card manufacturers, happy marriages, love, travellers, and young people, and  invoked against fainting and the plague."
My favorite Valentine's Day was nine years ago, in Florence, the first year with my true love.  We were staying in a room which had been part of Giaccomo Rossini’s apartment during the time when he was writing The Barber of Seville and the William Tell overture.

As we wandered the city we happened on the Chiesa di Dante, where the poet first saw his Beatrice (then eight), the beloved for whom he'd write his god-touched lines. 

It's her church more than his, a dim and unassuming place, deeply moving in its quiet sincerity.  We found her grave against one wall, among the Portinari family graves, a simple stone in a shadowy corner.  Many others found it before us, coming to pay their homage to the woman who inspired love beyond all reckoning, beyond exile and death.  Poems or maybe prayers written by hand on notebook pages are left for her there by the dozens, folded over and confided to the stone.  Words of love murmured to Beatrice still, though Dante is exiled for all time in Ravenna.  In one of Florence's big cathedrals stands an empty tomb with his name.

Wandering on, we found more words to inspire—the words “Andiamo in gioia” beckoning from the doorway of a gray stone church.  Oh let us go in joy, they said to us; and for all these years after, we have, we are, remembering to celebrate both joy and love.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, On Juliet's Balcony, Verona

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