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St Valentine and the Lovers Festival

In the south of France, the village of Roquemaure, hosts the annual St Valentine La Fête des Baisers et des Amoureux or "Festival of Kisses and Lovers", which began in 1989 and attracts over 20,000 people.

The town is known as "La Capitale des Amoureux" or "The Capital of Lovers" and it even has a specialty post office that seals envelopes with a kiss.

For over 24 years, the festival has commemorated Saint Valentine and the arrival of his mortal remains in 1868 to Roquemaure's church. Celebrations revolve around a return to a 19th century way of life with eight hundred traditionally costumed people, horses and carriages taking part in the celebrations.

Shop fronts are decorated in a 19th century fashion, the old post office sells souvenir valentine postcards, there's a lovers fountain, a market with over 60 ancient trades, a bandstand and wooden merry-go-rounds. The street names are even changed to celebrate the most famous lovers in French Literature. There are also concerts, street processions, candle lighting opportunities, firework displays and romantic meals aplenty.

So who was St. Valentine and how did this little village become associated with the famous saint?

Valentine was a Christian priest in Rome during the 3rd century. He was a kind-hearted soul who liked the company of young couples and would wisely advise them on their future. Claudius II, the Emperor of the time was having problems finding enough soldiers to fight his wars, so he outlawed marriage. Thinking this was unjust, Valentine, continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

For this act of goodness he was thrown into prison. The jailer's daughter, Julia, was blind and often visited Valentine in his cell. He described the world for her and told her about God.

One day, during one of her visits, the girl regained her sight. Convinced by the miracle, her family converted to Christianity. Claudius II, irritated by this new act of defiance, condemned Valentine to death. The day before his execution he wrote to Julia, signing his letter "from your Valentine".

He was decapitated on February 14th, 268 AD. In 1496, Pope Alexander VI officially declared Valentine the patron Saint of lovers.

Fast forward to 1866 in the little French town of Roquemaure where a terrible disease in the vineyards was destroying the economic and social life of the village. After trying everything without success, a rich landowner went to Rome to purchase the relics of St Valentine, in the hope of curing the town's diseased vine stocks. Within four years they were healed.

In 1868, the Bishop of Nîmes, Lord Plantier, joined with the jubilant population of Roquemaure to celebrate the arrival of St Valentine's relics. In a long procession, the relics were carried to the church where they would be kept in a shrine at the altar. A big party was thrown with people dancing and singing to the sound of shepherd's pipes and drums in the village squares. The Festival of the Kiss held in the town around February 14th each year still carries on this celebration of St Valentine.