Happy St Valentine’s Day
14 February, 2018

Happy St Valentine’s Day

/ 5 years ago

Ask anybody what they would associate St Valentine with, and the chances are that they would say something like “love”, “romance” or words to that effect.  And of course, they would be right.

However, although February 14th has been recognised as the ‘Feast of Saint Valentine’, an annual celebration of love, affection and romance, since the time of the Romans.

Perhaps a lesser-known fact however, is that St Valentine is also recognised in the Christian world as the patron saint of epilepsy,

Epilepsy has a much longer history than Christianity however. It has been recognised to varying degrees for at least 4,000 years and it was invariably connected to the gods in the ancient cultures that pre-dated Christianity. The ancient Egyptians, the Hindus in ancient India and the Aztecs and Incas in Central America all linked epilepsy to their gods.

But why was St Valentine so closely associated with epilepsy? Much is made of the phonetic similarity in the German language between the words ‘fallen’ (fall) and ‘Valentine’. This reinforced St Valentine’s connection to epilepsy in German speaking areas and led to common names for epilepsy in German such as “Saint Valentine’s illness” and “St Valentine’s affliction”. But in non-German speaking areas St Valentine’s patronage was not so strong. In France, for example, Saint Johannes was an important helper for combating epilepsy (mal de Saint Jean), and in Anglo-Saxon countries, especially in Catholic Ireland, it was Saint Paul.

The reputation of a Saint to be able to help is based upon his or her apparent success. Over the centuries St Valentine would have been called upon by thousands of Christians with epilepsy. If only by the law of averages he would have been credited with many miraculous cures and healings. Stories about these would have spread far and wide so enhancing his reputation and increasing the number of people who would turn to him for help which in turn would have led to yet more success stories. And so the connection with epilepsy is made and then reinforced down the ages.

Some of this reinforcement is seen in the iconic representations of St Valentine healing people with epilepsy. These are frequently encountered in southern Germany, eastern Switzerland, Austria and northern Italy. The first such representation appeared in The Nuremberg Chronicle, a great illustrated book printed in 1493. They often show the Saint with a boy or man having a seizure or apparently recovering from a seizure. This seems to echo the biblical story of Jesus curing the boy with epilepsy.

Anyway, we hope you have a very happy, and seizure-free Valentine’s Day!


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