Valentine’s Day is more than a box of chocolates in France. It’s a day to celebrate the myths and legends of Saint Valentine.
Roquemaure, a hamlet in the south of France, boasts a special connection to Saint Valentine. Each odd year, on the weekend closest to Valentine’s Day, more than fifteen thousand tourists descend on the town for a big party to honor the myths and legends.
Valentine Myths and Legends
Roquemaure’s Legend of Saint Valentine
As in many early stories about France, wine plays a leading role. This is no different.
Roquemaure and wine have been synonymous since Roman times. In the seventeenth century, the small village on the right bank of the Rhône River produced some of the best wines in France. Roquemaure’s port and access to established shipping routes spread its reputation around the world. Those in the “know” craved the fine wines labeled “Côte du Rhône.”
Access to world trade routes brought fame and fortune to Roquemaure. It brought problems, too. The deadly grapevine disease, phylloxera, entered France through Roquemaure in the 1860s.
When the “spots of Roquemaure” devoured local vineyards and were rapidly spreading to fields across France, a rich and powerful wine estate owner from Roquemaure traveled to Rome.
He was intent on bringing home a holy relic that would restore the health of the vines, and the wealth of the community. Religious relics were very much sought after, spreading in popularity from the church to royalty, and then to the nobility and merchant classes.
It is unclear which of the Saint’s body parts made the journey to Roquemaure. Nevertheless, when the wine estate owner arrived back home with his gift to the community he was met by a jubilant crowd. The Bishop from Nîmes led the lively procession from the landowner’s château to the church carrying Saint Valentine’s remains.
La Festo di Poutoun – A Festival of Lovers and Kissers
A century later, in 1969, a festival celebrating Saint Valentine’s arrival in Roquemaure was conceived by town leaders. “La Fête du Baiser,” also known as “La Festo di Poutoun,” or the Feast of Kisses. The event is a reenactment of the famous nineteen-century church procession. It is held on or near the weekend of Saint Valentine’s Day, February 14, every two years. Townspeople and visitors parade and dance in period costumes, craftspeople show off their artistry, and merchants spread out their wares.
The Myth of Saint Valentine
It is believed by many in Roquemaure, mostly the young and innocent, that Saint Valentine actually walked among them years ago. The tale goes something like this …
Saint Valentine arrived at Roquemaure, having traveled many days through the countryside carrying little money but a heavy sack. Valentine was so impressed he contemplated living in the tiny village. The landscape, the mountains, the olive trees, and the lush vineyards were much to his liking.
While scouting out his surroundings, Valentine noticed a young couple walking in the distance. He thought they were stunning, holding hands and sneaking an occasional kiss.
After walking quite a way, Saint Valentine stopped along the roadside, weary and needing to rest. Just ahead, he saw the couple. They invited him to sit with them.
“Tomorrow Bruno and I are to be married, ” said Elle, the young woman. ” Come to our wedding,” she coaxed Valentine.
The wedding of Elle and Bruno was expected to be the grandest event of the year in Roquemaure. The guest list included every man, woman, and child in the town.
On the day of the happy event, Valentine was warmly welcomed to join the wedding party. He sang and danced along with Elle, Bruno, and their guests. His beautiful smile beguiled them.
Close to the end of the evening, a group gathered around Valentine. Curious, they asked what brought him to Roquemaure. He told them he came there from his home in Rome. Then he told them why he left.
“Only fear, hatred, and blood reign there,” he said. “There is no Love.”
The crowd was captivated.
“No one was using it,” Valentine continued. “So I took the Love away,” he exclaimed.
“He carries Love with him!” they shouted.
That evening, every heart, one by one, was filled with Love — the Love Saint Valentine carried in his heavy sack.
Ready for more Valentine’s Day stories?
Phylloxera Photo: firstname.lastname@example.org
Festival Graphic by:https://brunojustamond.blogspot.com