celebrations · history · Just for fun · Seasonal

Just Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway? Love, Beekeeping and Epilepsy

Ah, Valentine’s Day. If you have no-one to spend it with, it can be an unwanted reminder of singledom. And if you do have someone to spend it with, there’s a lot of pressure for the perfect romantic day. But you may not know that St Valentine is one of those greedy saints who is the patron saint of all kinds of random things, not just romantic love. So just who was St Valentine…?

Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway?

St Valentine The Romantic

First things first: there are various legends and stories surrounding St Valentine, which may actually refer to multiple different figures. Valentine’s Day itself honours Valentine of Rome (who died in 269) and Valentine of Terni (who died in 273), but there were apparently even more early Christian martyrs named Valentine, which at this point seems like it was basically the Roman Empire’s equivalent of the name John Smith.

The legend that most obviously connects a St Valentine to a tradition of romantic love relates to a Roman priest during the reign of Claudius II, who was apprehended performing marriages for Christian couples and assisting Christians, who were at that time being persecuted. This was a major inconvenience to the emperor at the time, who supposedly believed that unmarried men made the best soldiers (legend is silent as to why he believed this, but perhaps the widow’s pension scheme simply proved too costly on the imperial purse). St Valentine was therefore promptly put to death. How romantic.

So next time you’re single and a newly coupled-up friend tells you about their Valentine’s Day plans, you can smugly remind them that Valentine’s Day is a holiday for married couples, and St Valentine (or any one of the various St Valentines) would certainly disapprove of chocolates, flowers and a romantic dinner out of wedlock.

St Valentine The Epileptic (?)

Less well-known is the fact that St Valentine is also the patron saint of epilepsy. And once again, he’s not the only one. According to Epilepsy Action, there are forty separate patron saints of epilepsy, although St Valentine is the most famous one… which does seem a little unfair, considering some might argue that he’s already famous enough for the celebrations on February 14th. He’s very much stealing the epilepsy thunder from other saints like St Vitus. Ever heard of St Vitus? No. But after he freed the Emperor Diocletian’s son from demonic possession (read: epilepsy), he was promptly put to death for doing it like a big old Christian. That’s gratitude for you.

Anyway, the point is that St Vitus literally died to cure epilepsy and you’ve never even heard of him.

So how did St Valentine become one of the many patron saints of epilepsy? Well, allegedly it once again comes back to the name Valentine. Epilepsy was for many years known as the ‘falling disease’ and in German, there is a similarity between the word ‘fallen’ and name ‘Valentine’, which led to alternative names in German for epilepsy, such as St Valentine’s disease. Bit of a weak connection, if we’re totally honest. St Vitus is pissed as all heck about it.

St Valentine The… Everything Else

Saint Valentine (well, one of them anyway) is also, for some reason, a patron saint of beekeepers – a link that seems even more tenuous than his connection to epilepsy, but there we go. The best justification for this link that I could find was a few beekeeping websites that vaguely referred to a supposed relationship between love and honey/bees. I can only assume they’re confusing love with pollen.

Now, you may be thinking that, well, someone has to be the patron saint of beekeepers, and maybe there just weren’t many volunteers for the job. Perhaps St Valentine just offered to help fill a blank spot on the celestial staffing rota? But no. St Ambrose and St Bernard of Clairvaux (you have to include the “of Clairvaux part, because otherwise people assume you’re talking about a dog) are also patron saints of beekeeping. If anything, you might say it’s a little oversubscribed on saints.

On top of this, Catholic Online lists St Valentine as the patron saint of fainting, greetings, plague, travellers and young people. It’s certainly a miracle that he has time to rest at all, especially as he seems to have overlooked the opportunity to become the patron saint of something a bit more chill, like embroidery (Rose of Lima got that gig). No wonder he needs Cupid to lend a hand on the 14th February…

So there you go. If you’re feeling a little left out this Valentine’s Day, why not try a spot of beekeeping, or celebrating your love for travel? It’s just as valid a way to mark the occasion as a box of chocolates and a bunch of roses…

baby · health · history · Just for fun · pain · parenting · teething

Teething Sucks, But It Won’t Kill You (Unless You Live In 1842)

Little Man is FINALLY asleep in my lap for his after-lunch nap, having missed out completely on all naps this morning due to his stomach playing up. Then once his stomach settled, he immediately moved on to having issues with his teeth, so he is way overdue a sleep and has big bags under his eyes. Oh boy, teething is fun. So obviously, it’s time for another post about teething. This time with a focus on the history of teething (or rather, the history of how humans have thought about teething) through the ages…

The Fascinating History Of Teething

The Jaws Of Death

Did you know that in the past, teething was often actually considered to be a cause of death? In fact, in 1842 in London, almost 5% of deaths of children under one year old were registered as being due to teething. This was probably due to the fact that children died at the age when they were teething, and doctors didn’t understand the actual cause of death. Children who are teething often have an elevated temperature, which is not actually a fever, but again in the past fever was considered to be a part of teething – as were fits, convulsions and diarrhoea. These beliefs go back to Hippocrates in Ancient Greece.

This all seems pretty strange to us now, when teething is regarded as an unpleasant experience for babies, but hardly a serious condition.

The History of Teething Treatments – Flossed in Time…

Poor teething babies in the past probably weren’t helped by the range of “treatments” used to help with their pain. Here are a few of my personal favourites (seriously don’t try this at home, although if I really have to say that then god help us all):

  • In 117 AD, Soranus of Ephesus suggested using a hare’s brain to ease teething pain (you rub it onto the gums, obviously)
  • In 1545 the English doctor, Thomas Phaire, advised hanging red coral around the child’s neck to prevent teething pain. It also had the handy side effect of helping the child to “resisteth the force of lightening“… So that’s good.
  • In 1575 the French army surgeon Ambroise Pare advised lancing (cutting) the child’s gums, an idea which proved very popular right through to the nineteenth century. In fact, in 1850 Francis Condie even wrote of a case where a dead child was supposedly revived by having his gums lanced. Hmm. Not sure that one would have stood up to a peer review process…


Hmm. I think I’ll stick with Little Man’s teething monkey. Although admittedly, it doesn’t give him the power to resist lightening (as far as I know, I’ll check the box).

Telling The Tooth

Humans aren’t the only animals who have trouble teething. Other primates and mammals in general also have baby teeth (also known as milk teeth) which are then replaced by adult teeth. In fact, elephants and walruses which grow tusks (basically just massively overgrown teeth) apparently also experience pain when their tusks start growing in, and try to rub them on things just as a baby tries to bite when it’s teething. Which sounds adorable.

It’s a strange thought that parents throughout the ages have all had to deal with teething. And given the crazy remedies that have been suggested throughout history, we’ve all wished it was easier to soothe our teething babies. Little Man still has so many teeth left to go, and everyone has their own opinion about which teeth are the worst to cut – I can’t exactly say I’m looking forward to it!

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