St. Valentine’s Glory

The love heart's precursor: hedera-shaped word division. – Detail from http://nvb.aarome.org/privato/articoli/1059_2.JPG.

The love heart’s precursor: hedera distinguens – ivy-leaf-shaped word division in Latin inscriptions. – Detail from http://nvb.aarome.org/privato/articoli/1059_2.JPG.

Valentine’s Day is imminent: a day for lovers (to celebrate their romance), for the chocolate and flower industries (to make a fortune), and for the ill-informed (to point out that the Romans, too, celebrated a festival around the same time of year – a festival called the Lupercalia).

But did you know that the day’s eponymous Saint (or one of them, anyway) has actually been commemorated in a short poetic inscription that was discovered near the catacombs of St. Valentine’s in the city of Rome?

The inscription, three elegiac distichs that were engraved on a fragmented marble plaque, has been read as follows (CIL VI 33881 = CLE 1415 = ICUR X 27276 = ILCV 2141 [photo here, on p. 480]):

Hic Pastor medicus monument[a in martyris aula]
[f]elix dum superest condidit i[lla sibi].
perfecit cumcta, excoluit. qui [volt violare],
cernet quo iaceat, poena m[anebit eum].
addetur et tibi Valentini gloria [sancti],
vivere post obitum dat [deus ipse suis].

Here, in the martyr’s residence, founded Pastor, a doctor, this
monument for himself, lucky, while still alive.
He completed everything, took care of it. He who wishes to violate it,
he will see where he lies, and punishment will await him.
May the glory of St. Valentine be bestowed upon you, too:
God himself grants his kin life after death.

Unfortunately (or so some may say), this is not an inscription that commemorates Valentinus himself. Potential fragments of such a piece – believed by some to contain letters originally belonging to an epigram in honour of Valentinus composed by Pope Damasus – were found in the same location as well, but their pertaining to Valentinus has never been established with sufficient certainty.

Still, a remarkable piece, commemorating a medical doctor named Pastor, obviously an early Christian, who chose to be buried in Valentinus’ proximity – an inscription, whose train of thought shifts quickly, from Pastor’s diligence in his careful choice and preparation of a burial plot to the rather blunt threat of potential violators to the hope that proximity to St. Valentine’s sanctuary would rub off on his own hopes for an eternal life after death.

We cannot know about the afterlife, of course.

But St. Valentine’s glory clearly was strong enough to preserve Pastor’s name and his memory to the present day – and February 14th seems like a good day to remember him.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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