During the Prime Minister’s short stay in his homeland, tenders were called from worldwide private sector firms, for painting his official residence and principal workplace.
The three highest quotes received were from China (US$ 5 million), Japan (US$ 15 million) and from France (US$ 45 million).
During his next jaunt abroad, needless to say, the Prime Minister visited the three painting firms in China, Japan and France to ask them the basis for their quotes.
The head of the Chinese People’s Cooperative Painting Consortium said, “Paint: $2 million; Labour: $2 million, and Profit: $1 million.”
The head of the Japanese Painting Company said, “Paint: $6 million; Labour: $6 million; and Profit: $3 million.”
The head of the French Gaul Sablage et Peinture Industrielle said, “For you in Swiss Bank: $20 million; For us: $20 million; and $5 million to the Chinese People’s Cooperative Painting Consortium for the painting work.”
The Meter is a metric measurement slightly longer than a yard; thus, a 100-meter dash might take you a second longer than a 100-yard dash. – Definition of Meter by Merriam-Webster.
1 metre ≈ 1.0936 yard or 39.370 inches.
A seconds pendulum is a pendulum whose period is precisely two seconds; one second for a swing in one direction and one second for the return swing, a frequency of 1/2 Hz. Christiaan Huygens had observed that length as 38 Rijnland inches or 39.26 English inches; that is, 997 mm.
In 1660, Christopher Wren suggested the use of the seconds pendulum to define length to the Royal Society. In 1668, John Wilkins, an English cleric and philosopher in an essay proposed the adoption of a decimal-based unit of length using the universal measure or standard based on a seconds pendulum. However, the Royal Society took no official action on these suggestions.
During the French Revolution that lasted 10 years from 1789 to 1799, the French Academy of Sciences charged a commission with determining a single scale for all measures. On October 7, 1790, that commission advised adopting the decimal system, and on March 19, 1791, advised adopting the term mètre (Greek “measure”), a basic unit of length, which they defined as equal to one ten-millionth of the distance between the Earth’s equator and the North Pole through Paris, thus making the kilometre 1/10,000 of this distance.
In 1793, the French National Convention adopted the proposal. The use of metre in English began at least as early as 1797.
The metre (British spelling and BIPM spelling) or meter (American spelling) from the French unit mètre, derived from the Greek noun μέτρον (“measure”) is the base unit of length in some metric systems, including the International System of Units (SI). The SI unit symbol is m.
In 1799, the metre was redefined in terms of a prototype metre bar. However, it was later determined that the first prototype metre bar was short by about 200 micrometres because of miscalculation of the flattening of the Earth, making the prototype about 0.02% shorter than the original proposed definition of the metre. Regardless, this length became the French standard and was progressively adopted by other countries in Europe.
The main problem with defining the length standard by an artefact such as the meter bar is that there is no sure way to determine if it has changed length due to age, deterioration, or misuse. It can be compared to other bar standards, but these may have changed length themselves.
In the 1870s and in light of modern precision, a series of international conferences were held to devise new metric standards. The Metre Convention (Convention du Mètre) of 1875 mandated the establishment of a permanent International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM: Bureau International des Poids et Mesures) in Sèvres, France. This new organisation was to construct and preserve a prototype metre bar, distribute national metric prototypes, and maintain comparisons between them and non-metric measurement standards.
The BIPM made 30 prototype standard bars of 90% platinum–10% iridium alloy. One of the bars was selected as the International Meter. In 1889 at the first General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM: Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesures), the International Prototype Metre was established as the distance between two lines on a standard bar composed of an alloy of 90% platinum and 10% iridium, measured at the melting point of ice.
The Prototype Metre bars had a modified X cross-section named for the French scientist, Henri Tresca, who proposed it.
After selecting the bar for use as the International Prototype Meter, the other bars were calibrated relative to it and were given to nations to serve as their national standards.
The United States received the National Prototype Meter Bar No. 27, and No. 21 in 1890. The US adoption of the metric system in 1893 made the meter the fundamental length standard of the US, and No. 27 became the primary national standard for all length measurements.
Now, this original international prototype of the metre is now in the collection of the NIST Museum, Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, because in 1960 the SI changed the standard of length to define the meter by the wavelength of light of a spectral line of krypton 86.
“Let the Land rejoice, for you have bought Louisiana for a Song.” – Gen. Horatio Gates to President Thomas Jefferson, July 18, 1803
“Never did the united states grab so much for so little.” – Henry Adams
“Vente de la Louisiane” or “Sale of Louisiana” also known as “The Louisiana Purchase” considered the greatest real estate deal in history took place on December 20, 1803.
Louisiana has a long rich history. Native Americans settled there first, and then it became the mainspring of an empire, and finally it got incorporated into the United States. Various cultures: Native American, French, Spanish, the Caribbean, African, and the English influenced Louisiana, evolving it into a region of exuberant and intrinsic blend of ethnicity.
In 1528, a Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narváez were the first European to visit Louisiana. They located the mouth of the Mississippi River.
When the first Europeans set foot in this region many native groups inhabited there such as: Acolapissa, Adai, Appalousa, Atakapa, Avoyel, Bayougoula, Caddo, Chawasha, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Houma, Koroa, Nakasa, Natchitoches, Natchez, Okelousa, Ouachita, Quinipissa-Mougoulacha, Taensa, Tangipahoa, Tunica, Washa, Yagenechito, Yatasi and so on.
In 1542, another Spanish expedition led by Hernando de Soto ventured into the north and west of the region where they encountered the Caddo and Tunica groups. In 1543, they followed the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. As they drifted along the river, hostile tribes besieged them. The natives followed their boats in large canoes. Continually shooting arrows they killed 11 Spaniards and wounded many more.
Gradually, Europeans lost interest in Louisiana until the late 17th century, when sovereign, religious and commercial aims surfaced once again. The French established their first settlements, on the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast, and claimed a vast region of North America. France then set out to establish a commercial empire and a nation under the French rule that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.
In 1682, the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, or Robert Cavelier de La Salle (November 22, 1643 – March 19, 1687)named the region Louisiana to honor France’s King Louis XIV. In 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, a French military officer from Canada established the first permanent settlement, Fort Maurepas, at what is now Ocean Springs, Mississippi, near Biloxi.
The French explored the Mississippi River valley and established scattered settlements in the region. By the middle of the 18th century, France controlled more of the modern United States than any other European power. The French colony of Louisiana originally claimed all the land on both sides of the Mississippi River and north to French territory in Canada.
The following present-day states were part of the then vast tract of Louisiana: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
In 1719, two ships, the Duc du Maine and the Aurore, arrived in New Orléans, carrying the first African slaves to Louisiana. From 1718 to 1750, transportation of thousands of Africans to Louisiana from the Senegambian coast, the west African region of the interior of modern Benin, and from the coast of modern Angola took place. The influx of slaves from Africa strongly shaped the Louisiana Creole culture.
Having suffered damaging defeats in the Seven Years’ War against the British, the French wanted to prevent losing its Louisiana territory and the city of New Orléans to them. So in 1762, King Louis XV of France ceded the French American territory west of the Mississippi River to his cousin, King Carlos II of Spain by the Treaty of Paris of 1763. However, in 1763, France transferred nearly all of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain.
At the end of the 18th century, Napoleon Bonaparte after grabbing the French throne looked westward to enlarge his empire. In 1800, the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso between Spain and France gave the son-in-law of King of Spain power over Tuscany in trade for returning the Louisiana Territory to French control.
After about two years, the United States government discovered the re-transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France. At this time, the Mississippi River had become the chief trading route for goods shipped between the states it bordered. President Thomas Jefferson sought to acquire New Orléans because of its vital geographic position at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The acquisition would ensure its right to sail its vessels down the Mississippi River through Spanish territory, and unload goods at New Orléans for shipment to the Atlantic coast and Europe.
In 1801, President Jefferson sent Robert Livingston to France to negotiate the sale of New Orléans; but Napoleon refused to sell the city.
In early 1803, the French commander Vicomte de Rochambeau lost a fierce battle in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). This battle consumed much-needed resources and it also cut off the French connection to the ports on the southern coast of North America.
Napoleon realized that France did not have a strong enough navy to maintain control of its lands far away from home separated by the Atlantic ocean. Napoleon’s sole aim was to consolidate his resources to conquer England. To raise funds for the troops and materials to wage an effective war against England, he decided to sell the French territories in North America.
Again in early 1803, President Jefferson sent James Monroe to France to negotiate the sale. However, in April 1803, just days before Monroe arrived in Paris Napoleon offered to sell to the United States not only New Orléans but all of Louisiana.
The Louisiana territory encompassed all or part of the 15 present U.S. States and two Canadian provinces. The Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, Napoleon’s minister of the treasury negotiated the terms of the Louisiana Purchase with Livingston and Monroe.
The land purchased contained all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River; most of North Dakota; most of South Dakota; northeastern New Mexico; northern Texas; the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orléans; and small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The United States of America purchased Louisiana for 50 million francs ($11,250,000) plus cancellation of the claims of its own citizens against France worth 18 million francs ($3,750,000), for a total sum of 15 million dollars – less than 3 cents per acre.
Upon concluding the purchase Robert Livingston, U.S. Minister to France, said of the transfer:
“We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives … From this day the United States will take their place among the powers of the first rank … The instruments which we have just signed will cause no tears to be shed; they prepare ages of happiness for innumerable generations of human creatures.“
Europe has a population of 740 million of which 500 million are in the European Union (EU). According to the European Union border agency the plethora of refugees entering Europe had increased over the past 10 months. More than 150,000 refugees entered the EU in August 2015 increasing the total influx of refugees to more than half a million for the year 2015.
Although this amount of refugees is not large enough to construe it as an invasion or being over-run when compared to the population of Europe, the European leaders were slow to respond. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner has called it “the worst refugee crisis facing Europe since World War II.“
For many refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and the abominable ISIS, the Greek islands have been the gateway to enter the European Union. This year alone, more than 259,000 refugees entered Greece by boat via Turkey. The arrival of about 88,000 refugees in the Greek islands in August 2015 was the largest so far, an eleven-fold increase compared to the same month a year ago. Almost 75% percent of the refugees seeking asylum were Syrians.
The Schengen Area
Six founding members: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany created the European Economic Community (EEC) by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. This regional organization aimed to bring about economic integration between its member states, including a common market and customs union.
When the ten member states of the then EEC were not able to reach a consensus on the abolition of border controls, five of its members signed The Schengen Agreement on June 14, 1985, paving the way to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area. The treaty signed near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg was not implemented in full until 1995.
The Schengen Agreement proposed the gradual abolition of border checks and allow vehicles to cross the common borders of the signatories of the treaty without stopping. It permitted residents in the border areas to cross the borders away from fixed checkpoints.
In 1990, the Schengen Convention supplemented the Schengen Agreement by proposing the abolition of internal border controls and a common visa policy. For most purposes, the Schengen Area with a common visa policy functions as a single country for international travel purposes. The Schengen Agreement and the rules adopted under it were quite separate from the EU structures.
The Schengen Area now comprises 26 European countries. These member states have strengthened their external border controls with non-Schengen states. Out of the current 28 European Union member states, 22 are participants in the Schengen Area.
Countries comprising The Schengen Area
Denmark (excluding Greenland
and the Faroe Islands)
Finland (Including Åland Islands)
France (mainland and Corsica only)
Netherlands (excluding Aruba,
Curaçao, Sint Maarten
and the Caribbean Netherlands)
Norway (excluding Svalbard)
Portugal (Including Madeira and Azores)
Spain (with special provisions for
Ceuta and Melilla)
Currently, the Schengen Area has an area of 1,617,4245 square miles (4,189,111 square kilometers) and a population of over 400 million people.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are four of the six EU members that do not form part of the Schengen Area, are legally obliged and wish to join the Area. The other two, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, maintain opt-outs.
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland have signed the Schengen Agreement even though they are member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and are not in the EU.
The three European microstates, the Vatican, Monaco, and San Marino do not have border controls with the Schengen countries that surround them. Though considered as de facto within the Schengen Area they have not officially signed documents that make them part of the Schengen Area.
The influx of refugees
Since many Eastern European countries are guarding their borders in the face of the influx of refugees, the distribution of refugees among the 28-member EU is somewhat skewed. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), EU countries received more than 437,000 asylum applications from January 2015 to July 2015. Germany received the most applications, followed by Hungary, Sweden, Italy and France.
The migrants from African countries enter the EU through Italy and Spain. Many of those who enter Italy apply for asylum on landing there. Some try to cross into France.
From France, a few try to enter the United Kingdom by perilous means such as getting smuggled in containers through the Eurotunnel from Calais, northern France.
Many Syrians try to reach Italy from Greece while others head to Austria via Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia.
Most refugees try to reach the Schengen Area. From there, they move into Hungary through Macedonia and Serbia. Also, some refugees from Turkey reach Hungary via Bulgaria and Romania. The popular route to enter the Schengen zone is through Norway, by way of Russia and Lebanon.
From Hungary, most refugees continue their journey to richer countries such as Germany and Sweden that have liberal immigration policies.
Last week, I came across an action video on Facebook. The participant’s smooth movements on a hazardous course – clearing obstacles, climbing walls in a jiffy faster than Spider-Man, traversing walls by jumping from one to another, jumping down from heights with ease, etc., just amazed me.
Parkour, the art of motion, is a holistic training discipline. The term “Parkour” derives from the French phrase “parcours du combattant“, the classic obstacle course method of military training proposed and developed by Georges Hébert, a pioneering French physical educator, theorist and instructor.
Georges Hébert (April 27, 1875 – August 2, 1957)
Before the First World War, Georges Hébert was an officer in the French Navy. In 1902, when stationed in the town of Saint-Pierre, Martinique, a volcanic eruption occurred in Mount Pelée. Hébert coordinated the rescue of about 700 people from the catastrophe. This incident reinforced his belief that courage and altruism must go hand in hand with athletic skill.
Georges Hébert traveled far and wide throughout the world. He was impressed by the movement skills of indigenous peoples living in natural surroundings in Africa and elsewhere.
When Georges Hébert returned to France, he became a physical education tutor at the college of Reims for the French marines in Lorient. He defined the principles of his own system of physical education, the “méthode naturelle” (natural method). He created ten fundamental exercises: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, balancing, throwing, lifting, self-defense, and swimming.
“Être fort pour être utile” (“Be strong to be useful”) became his personal motto.
“The final goal of physical education is to make strong beings. In the purely physical sense, the Natural Method promotes the qualities of organic resistance, muscularity, and speed, towards being able to walk, run, jump, move on all fours, to climb, to keep balance, to throw, lift, defend yourself and to swim.”
Here is how Georges Hébert defined the guiding principles and fundamental rules of his Natural Method:
“With regard to the development of virile qualities, this is obtained by the execution of certain difficult or dangerous exercises requiring the development of these various qualities, for example, while seeking to control the fear of falling, of jumping, of rising, of plunging, of walking on an unstable surface, etc.”
Hence, Georges Hébert is considered one of the proponents of “parcours“, an obstacle course, now the standard in French military education and training. His teachings and methods of instruction spread between and during the two World Wars. This further led to the development of civilian fitness trails and confidence courses.
Georges Hébert was critical of the physical inactivity imposed upon women by the contemporary European society and was an early advocate of the benefits of exercise for women and criticized the fashion of women wearing corsets.
Modern day Parkour
Modern day Parkour, the holistic training discipline using body movements was developed in France, primarily by Raymond Belle, David Belle, and Sébastien Foucan during the late 1980s. The name of their method was eventually changed to “le Parkour“.
Now Parkour includes running, climbing, swinging, mantling, vaulting, jumping, rolling, quadrupedal movement, and the like, depending on what movement is deemed most suitable for a given situation.
A practitioner of Parkour called a traceur (feminine: traceuse) aims to move from one place to another in the most efficient way possible to using body movements and the surroundings for propulsion. The traceur trains to maintain as much momentum as possible while still remaining safe.
Raymond Belle, a French soldier and firefighter, is considered one of the originators of Parkour. He was born on October 3, 1939, to a French doctor and a Vietnamese mother. His father died during the First Indochina War. Raymond got separated from his mother during the division of Vietnam in 1954.
The French Army in Da Lat took Raymond Belle into its care and gave him a military education and training. He trained himself harder than everyone else to become strong to survive and never be a victim. At night, when others were asleep, he would sneak out of the dormitory to run, climb trees, and use the military obstacle courses without the knowledge of the officers. To test his endurance, strength and flexibility he created exercises on his own.
When the Battle of Dien Bien Phu came to an end, Raymond was repatriated to France, where he completed his military education in 1958.
At age 19, Raymond joined the Paris’ regiment of sapeurs-pompiers (military firefighters). With his unique physical fitness and athletic ability, he became the champion rope-climber of the regiment. He was inducted into its elite team composed of the unit’s fittest and most agile firefighters. The peerless elite team members were often called upon to take on the most difficult and dangerous rescue missions.
Noted for his undaunted courage and keeping cool in any circumstance Raymond was lauded for his spirit of self-sacrifice.
He played a key role in the first ever helicopter-borne operation of the regiment of sapeurs-pompiers. His many rescue exploits earned him a large number of medals and a reputation of being an exceptional pompier. He inspired the next young generation of firefighters.
Raymond Belle dedicated his life to physical well-being. He followed the teachings and the disciplines laid out in Georges Hébert’s book “Méthode Naturelle“. He used climbing, jumping, running, balancing, etc., for his personal advancement in athletics. He referred to his interpretation of Hébert’s methods as “le Parcours” to encompass all his training methods.
Raymond learned how best to overcome obstacles in a fluid manner in a natural environment. His extraordinary athleticism and physical ability was nothing less than a ‘force of nature‘. He was a role-model for athletes, especially to his son David Belle and Sébastien Foucan.
Raymond died in December 1999, but his memory and the record of his many acts of bravery live on, just as valid now as they were in his heyday. With his charisma and his human qualities, he left his mark on his comrades. Raymond Belle will forever embody the iconic ideal of the military firefighters of Paris.
Now, thanks to David Belle (son of Raymond Belle) and his friend Sébastien Foucan, Parkour as a sport has spread around the world. It has both a great number of male and female adherents in many countries, among the young generation.
Due to the political instability in Milan, Leonardo left for Rome accompanied by Melzi and Salai on September 24, 1513.
Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici, was an Italian nobleman, the third son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. One of his elder brothers Giovanni de‘ Medici was now Pope Leo X. Appointed Gonfaloniere of the Holy Church, Giuliano had heard much of Leonardo. Meeting Leonardo for the first time, Giuliano welcomed him with open arms like two friends meeting after years of separation. He gave Leonardo lodgings in Fort Belvedere, with a studio and several rooms for his companions.
Giuliano and Leonardo became close friends. They discovered in each other the same interests – love of mathematics, mechanics, and nature, and they shared similar thoughts and feelings. Guiliano’s protection gave security to Leonardo and new impetus to carry on with his interests.
Like his father, Giuliano too was a friend and protector of many artists in Florence and Rome. He immediately commissioned two paintings, a Leda and a portrait of a Florentine woman.
In the Vatican Leonardo enjoyed a period of tranquility with a decent salary and no major obligations. He drew maps, studied ancient Roman monuments, started a project for a large residence for the Medici in Florence. He conducted experiments in human flight. From big models Leonardo went on to create tiny ones. He experimented with gliding flights and the curvature of the wings by modelling miniature birds in thin wax.
In Rome, Leonardo found an old acquaintance, Donato Bramante, the Italian architect, who introduced Renaissance architecture to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome. He also found the Pope’s favourite, Raphael, the Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance holding court like a prince.
There was no formal scientific research in the Middle Ages. Unable to suppress the writings of the ancient Greeks, the Roman Catholic Church allowed the teaching of ancient Greek science as long as it did not conflict with the Holy Bible and its own teachings. The scholars had to accept the observations of nature passed down from Aristotle and other ancient Greeks. The Church would not permit free inquiry. It imprisoned, tortured, and executed truth-seekers. Leonardo was a truth-seeker, and this fact would not endear him to the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, Pope Leo X prohibited Leonardo from performing dissections and autopsies. Thus, ended Leonardo’s study of the human body.
Giuliano de‘ Medici died prematurely on March 17, 1516 (aged 37), and Leonardo felt that he had no friends in Rome to protect him, not even the Pope.
King Francis I of France, a patron of the arts, had earlier invited Leonardo to Amboise. So, Leonardo left Italy to spend the last three years of his life in France accompanied by Melzi and Salai. King Francis provided him the Château du Clos Lucé, then called Château de Cloux, as a place to stay and work.
The king treated Leonardo as a member of the nobility and not as an employee of the royal house. He arranged an annuity of 700 gold scudi to be paid to the elderly artist, to relieve him of any shadow of worry about money. In exchange the young King asked only friendship. The King often went to Cloux to visit Leonardo or sent a carriage to bring the aged artist to his castle.
In the autumn of 1516, Leonardo was not yet 65, but looked much older like an ancient prophet. From 1517, onwards Leonardo’s health started deteriorating. Even when his right arm was paralyzed, he still worked with his left hand. He made sketches for urban projects, drainage of rivers and even decorated for the holiday palace. He even conceived the idea of prefabricated houses.
The French greeted Melzi as an “Italian gentleman living with master Leonardo,” but accepted the 36-years-old Salaì, only as a “servant”. A dejected Salaì parted from Leonardo and left France in 1518. In reality, he understood that the young Melzi had taken his place in the heart of the Maestro.
Melzi remained in France with his master until Leonardo’s death at the Château du Clos Lucé on May 2, 1519. According to a legend, King Francis I was at his side when he died, cradling Leonardo’s head in his arms
Upon Leonardo’s death, Melzi inherited the artistic and scientific works, manuscripts, and collections of Leonardo. Melzi then wrote a letter to inform Leonardo’s brothers. In this letter he described Leonardo’s love for him. He described his master’s feeling towards him as “sviscerato e ardentissimo amore” meaning “passionate and ardent love”.
Returning to Italy, Melzi played the role of a guardian of Leonardo’s notebooks. He prepared Leonardo’s writings for publication in the manner directed by his erstwhile master.
Melzi married, and fathered a son, Orazio. When Orazio died on his estate in Vaprio d’Adda, his heirs sold the collection of Leonardo’s works.
It is commonly believed that Leonardo bequeathed to Salaì several paintings including the Mona Lisa. Salaì owned Mona Lisa until his death in 1525. In his will the Mona Lisa was assessed at 505 lire, an exceptionally high valuation for a small panel portrait at that time. Through his estate, many works, including the Mona Lisa, passed into the possession of Francis I of France.
Salaì returned to Milan to work on Leonardo’s vineyard, where his father worked before, and which his erstwhile master had passed on to him through his will.
On June 14, 1523, at the age of 43, Salaì married Bianca Coldiroli d’Annono.
Salaì died in 1524 as a result of a wound received from a crossbow in a duel. He was buried in Milan on March 10, 1524.
The feast of Saint Valentine falls on February 14 each year.
Most people in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and in many countries around the world, celebrate this centuries-old holiday popularly known as Valentine’s Day. In most countries, this remains a working day.
For centuries, people have cherished the month of February as a month for romance that has vestiges of both pagan Roman and Christian traditions.
It was a custom among the pagan Roman youths and maidens to select partners, on February 14. Alban Butler, author of Lives of the Saints has presented an aspect of the Roman Lupercalia as a festival of a “Juno Februata,” under the heading of February 14:
“To abolish the heathens’ lewd, superstitious custom of boys drawing the names of girls in honour of their goddess, Februata Juno, on the 15th of the month, several zealous pastors substituted the names of saints in billets given on this day.”
On February 14, lovers exchange sweets, candy, chocolates, flowers and other gifts in the name of a mysterious Christian saint named Valentine. Why mysterious? No one knows for sure who the real patron saint of the day is! The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentinus.
Whoever he was, Saint Valentine really existed. Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine. The Catholic Church, however, recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentinus.
According to the most popular legend, Valentinus was a holy priest in Rome. With St. Marius and his family, Valentinus helped the martyrs during the persecutions of early Christians. Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young soldiers as he reckoned that single men made better soldiers than those married and having a family.
The holy priest Valentinus thought the emperor’s decree was not just and decided to defy it. He performed marriages for young lovers in secret. Eventually, the Emperor became aware of the marriages performed by the priest, and his ministry among Christians and ordered the arrest of Valentinus. The prefect of Rome, on finding Valentinus not ready to renounce his faith had him beaten with clubs, and then beheaded him on February 14, about the year 269.
Like all other saints, St. Valentine too is said to have performed miracles. The legends say that during his imprisonment Valentinus healed the daughter of his Roman jailer named Asterius and converted 46 members of his family to Christianity. The legends further say that Valentinus fell in love with the girl who visited him during his confinement, and before his execution wrote her a farewell letter and signed it: “From your Valentine.”
Another story states that Valentinus was condemned to death for attempting to help beaten and tortured Christians escape from Roman prisons.
Pope Julius I, built a church near Ponte Mole to honour the martyr. A large part of the saint’s relics is now in the church of St. Praxedes.
In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius marked February 14 to observe the martyrdom of St. Valentine said to have died in 269 AD. So, the Catholics are now celebrating February 14 as the feast day of St. Valentine – patron of love, young people, and happy marriages.
These sombre legends portray Valentinus as a sympathetic, heroic, and a romantic person. In the Middle Ages, as a result of the reputation created as a legendary hero. Valentinus became one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Now, the word “Valentine”, denotes a card or letter expressing one’s love and affection for a person of the opposite sex. Sending a ‘Valentine‘ may also involve flowers, candy, and other gifts.
Prayer to Saint Valentine
Dear Lord, who art high in the Heavens,
Giver of Love and Passion,
And He who strings the heart’s cords,
Lead the Lovers this day, February ten plus four.
The day during the month of two,
When the date is the perfect number of God
Greater two souls and two hearts.
Some Loves are fleeting,
But that which is built on you will never fail.
So guide the Lovers to know what is to be.
Your truths the Lovers’ mouths should speak,
For Your truth is that which is honest to the heart.
Only this, then, should pass over the red lips of the Lovers.
Your art, the Lovers simply a medium.
It is only with True Hearts that You can create a Masterpiece,
So let the Lovers remember that their Soul’s Desire
Is the one for which You light their Fire.
And let it be You who creates the Art of the Lovers;
The art of two into one.
François-Marie Arouet, better known by the pen name ‘Voltaire‘, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of expression, free trade, separation of church and state, and his attacks on the established Catholic Church.
In his opinion, the French bourgeoisie were too small and ineffective, the aristocracy were parasitic and corrupt, the commoners were superstitious and ignorant, and the church was a static force only useful as a counterbalance since its “religious tax”, or the tithe, helped to cement a power base against the monarchy.
Voltaire distrusted the democratic ways of governance. He said that democracy was propagating the idiocy of the masses. He essentially believed monarchy to be the key to progress and change.
Since the king’s rational interest was to improve the power and wealth of France in the world, Voltaire presumed that only an enlightened monarch, advised by philosophers like himself, could bring about change.
Voltaire is quoted as saying that he “would rather obey one lion, than 200 rats (of his own species)“.
Today, Voltaire is remembered and honoured in France as a courageous polemicist, who tirelessly fought for civil rights, the right to a fair trial and freedom of religion, and who denounced the hypocrisies and injustices of the ancient regime.
Thomas Carlyle, who argued that while Voltaire was unsurpassed in literary form, not even the most elaborate of his works was of much value for matter, and that he had never come up with any significant idea of his own.
Voltaire had faced critics in his own life time. He retorted:
“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbor’s, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”