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Time Passages: Expressing love and affection on Valentine’s Day

How did St. Valentine become associated with love and romance?

Well, it all goes back to the fifth century when Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 as St. Valentine’s Day to honor the Christian martyr Valentinus, and eventually, it evolved into an occasion for people to acknowledge the importance of expressing their love and affection for each other.

St. Valentine was a priest in Rome when he was executed on Feb. 14, 269. A popular story of him states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden by the Roman Empire to marry and for ministering to Christians. Before his execution, it’s reported he performed a miracle by healing Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer, Asterius.

St. Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution of a beating, stoning and decapitation because of his stand for Christian marriage. The story goes that his last words before he died were in a letter signed, “From Your Valentine” as a farewell.

Now known as the patron saint of lovers, the possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on Valentine’s Day comes from St. Valentine who is said to have cut hearts from parchment to give to soldiers and persecuted Christians.

St. Valentine also supposedly wore a purple amethyst ring with the winged angel-like image of Cupid engraved on it, a recognizable symbol associated with love in many countries around the world. Which makes sense why amethyst became the birthstone for the month of February.

Each year on Feb. 14, many people exchange greeting cards (known as valentine’s), jewelry, gifts, candy (chocolate), flowers (roses) or even get married to their special “valentine” on that day.

The practice of mailing valentine cards became popular in 18th Century England. Fancy valentine’s were made in factories using real lace and ribbons with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th Century. In 1835, 60,000 valentine cards were sent by mail in Britain.

By 1847 the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold in the U.S. and are highly sought after by antique collectors today. Since then Valentine’s Day has become one of the more commercialized holidays in the country.

The annual practice of exchanging cards and all manners of gifts has exploded with the number of cards exchanged estimated to be over 190 million, which is why Valentine’s Day is usually considered by some cynics as “Hallmark’s Holiday.” However, I suspect the digital age is rapidly making its own mark on the industry, as many recipients use Facebook now or receive computer e-cards and valentine text messages on their portable devices.

You could say an unusual valentine of another sort has been recently built by a rural Goodthunder, Minn., craftsman which now stands 365 days a year in his yard as a symbol of his deep love and support for his wife of 57 years.

Metal artist Arnie Lilo designed a 45-foot tall steel structure replica of the Eiffel Tower for his wife. Contributed photo

Metal artist Arnie Lilo designed a 45-foot tall steel structure replica of the Eiffel Tower for his wife. Contributed photo

Metal artist Arnie Lillo enjoys creating pieces of art with steel and has about 155 figures standing all over his yard, including a Jesse James Theme Park. The display attracts about 1,000 visitors annually to his 13-acre hobby farm located south of Mankato.

When his wife Janice was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2014, Arnie decided he wanted to build something really nice and exceptional for her. Since Arnie likes a challenge, he decided to design and construct a 45-foot tall steel structure replica of the Eiffel Tower.

His work on the smaller version of the Paris landmark took two months to finish and has been standing in the yard for about five months. “She thought I had a good idea to build it and when it was finished, she really enjoyed it and said it was unbelievable,” Arnie said.

The tower, made of 10-gauge steel, includes 4-foot wide by 6-foot tall four-way arches set on a stone base to allow people to walk through the structure.

Janice’s ancestors are from France, so Arnie found the family crest and put that image on the antique copper weather vane that sits on top of his mini Eiffel Tower. He appreciates all the help he’s received to complete his memorial, including donations of materials, paint and trucking from various businesses. Crane equipment provided by his neighbor, Doug Hager, helped to erect the Eiffel Tower.

The tower’s iconic symbol for the city of love has been a good project for them. “It helps both of us because it’s something else to think about other than cancer when you look at it,” Arnie explained.

But Arnie’s creative mind is not done yet. Now that his Eiffel Tower is finished, he’s designing another internationally recognized symbol — a replica of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge which will span 80 to 100 feet over a ravine on his property.

Ironically, construction just started on the Golden Gate Bridge 83 years ago in January of 1933. Work was completed four years later. As for Arnie, he expects his bridge to be finished before next Valentine’s Day.

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