It is almost February 14th ,Valentine’s day, so might as well talk about love or at least about love related issues in the Basque Country.
Let me remind you about the story behind Valentine’s day. We need to go back in time to the 3rd century when in the Roman Empire young men would celebrate “Lupercalia”. It is said that this celebration used to take place the day of “ante diem XV Kalendas Martias” which means February 14th. Young men would gather in a sacred cave to sacrifice a ram in honor to “Luperco” a wolf like divinity who would help with the fertility of their future spouses.
At this time, Emperor Claudius II, besides forbidding the celebration of Lupercalia, he prohibited young couples to get married. He thought that single men without responsibilities would become better soldiers. We all know that young love is unstoppable and those crazy in love couples needed to get married before the men had to go to war. This is when father Valentine, although it was prohibited, celebrated weddings for them. At the end Valentine was captured and killed the day of Lupercalia (February 14th)
Love the Basque way
But, what about love related traditions in the Basque Country? Do we do anything special?
I have found one thing that we do differently from the rest of the world. Over here we wear our wedding band on the right hand and not on the left one. There has to be at least one reason for this peculiar tradition, in fact there are a couple of them.
The first reason is a historical one. Let’s go back to Paris in the hot summer of 1572. It was August 18th and Notre Dame was ready to welcome the royal wedding between the future queen of France Marguerite De Valois and the prince Henry of Navarre.
Any wedding should be a day of joy, happiness and big celebrations. Well, I guess this wedding was not going to be as joyful as expected. The tension was palpable both in the streets of Paris and inside the Cathedral. It was well known that Marguerite was Catholic, while Henry was Protestant. This wedding was an attempt to pacify the wars of religion that were taking place throughout France.
Instead of bringing peace, the wedding brought disaster. Big riots took place in Paris between Catholics and Protestants. Violence escalated so much that in the night of August 23rd Catherine of Medici, who was Margarite´s mother, ordered the mass assassinations of the followers of her new son in law Henry. This night is known in history as St. Bartholomew´s Massacre.
As you can imagine after the massacre our hero, sorry I am from Navarra so Henry is the hero in this story, needed to know who was supporting him. He could not go asking around if people were with him or against him, so Henry’s followers made a subtle change. Instead of wearing their wedding bands on their left hand, they changed it to the right one. It was a discreet change with a very clear message, I support Henry and not Margarite.
The most international symbol of love, the wedding ring, was used to show the love and support to our King. By the way, King Henry of Navarre is known in all history books as Henry IV of France.
Love from the bottom of your what?
The second reason why Navarrese wears the ring on the right hand is about a more pragmatic love than the one we all know.
If I ask you why you wear your wedding band on your left hand, you will probably answer, because it is closer to your heart, and you love your spouse from the bottom of your heart. Well, this is exactly why we wear ours on the right hand, because it is far enough from the heart.
Now you are like “OK, these people are crazy” Let me explain to you.
We believe that the heart is such a powerful muscle that can rule your entire life. The heart is uncontrollable, unpredictable and often capricious. The heart believes 100% in romantic love, in the love that we see in the movies. But let’s not forget that those movies end on the wedding day. Nobody tells us what happens the day after the wedding, nor ten year after and where is that romantic love after fifty years?
So, why do you want your heart to rule your life? And more important, why do you let him rule who and how you love?
To me, the relationship with my wife is so important that I rather sacrifice part of the power of my heart and divide it into other things that I can hopefully control easier. Things like intellectual love, physical love or even a more platonic love. It is not that we do not believe in romantic love, but if you base your relationship only on romanticism and it is ruled by an uncontrollable heart, if you have a love heart attack, that will be the end of the relationship.
For us, wearing our wedding bands on the right hand is a symbol of the most profound and complex love.
Anyway my friend, happy Valentine’s day and I really hope you love someone from the bottom of your soul.
PS: If you want to read about Marguerite and Henry, there is a great book written by Alexander Dumas called “Queen Margot” that tells the story of the wedding and the days after. There is also an incredibly beautiful French film made out of this novel.
Here is a short video of the wedding ceremony. It is one of my favorite scenes of all time.