History of Valentine's Day

Posted by Siobhan Nasby on

History of Valentine's Day

History of Valentine's Day


When one thinks of Valentine’s Day what do they picture? Roses, chocolates, cards, and passionate love all come to mind. Well did you know that the origins of Valentine's Day are a little darker than one would have thought? When one begins to research the origins of this love-centered holiday it is shrouded in mystery. With multiple different back stories and links to both Christianity and Roman pagan celebrations, it’s hard to tell fact from fiction.

St. Valentine

In the Catholic faith at least three different saints are linked to the word Valentine, with all three being martyred. The first story tells of a priest in third century Rome. During this time period it is said that Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made for better soldiers compared to married men with children, so he banned marriage for all young men in Rome. Valentine found this to be an atrocious decree and married young couples in secret, defying the mighty Emperor Claudius. Eventually Valentine’s acts were brought to light and the Emperor ordered that he be put to death. 

Emperor Claudius

The second story still takes place in third century Rome during Emperor Claudius’s reign, but tells of another holy man who defied the Emperor. This gentleman was thought to be a Bishop, a clergyman even higher in the ranks of the Catholic church. His name was Saint Valentine of Terni, who some believe to be the true namesake of the holiday. The story says that he too was condemned to death by Claudius II and beheaded outside of Rome. 

"From Your Valentine"

The last story tells of a man named Valentine who may have been killed for helping Christians escape tyrannical Rome and the horrendous prisons they were detained in. It is thought that an imprisoned Valentine was the first person to send a “valentine” card, surprisingly enough to his jailer’s daughter whom he had fallen in love with. Prior to his death it was believed he wrote to her and signed the end of the note with “From your Valentine”, a saying we still use to this day.

The Celebration of Lupercalia

Valentine’s Day and its connection to the pagan Roman traditions is believed to be linked to the celebration of Lupercalia. This celebration was celebrated on the ides of February, or February 15th. Lupercalia was a fertility festival linked to the Roman god Faunus, the god of agriculture and to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. At the beginning of the festival Roman priests linked to the order of Luperci, would gather at a sacred cave that was believed to have been the birthplace of Romulus and Remus. Here they would sacrifice animals for fertility and purification. They would then take the animal hides and dip them in blood, using these hides to slap the crops and women of Rome believing this would provide fertility to both. Roman women believed this act would make them fertile in the year to come. According to legend on this day young, single women would place their names in a big urn and the young men of Rome would select a name. This would lead to these couples being paired for the next year, with most of these blind matches ending in marriage. 

As Christianity blazed a trail across Europe the festival of Lupercalia was outlawed at the end of the 5th century. Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day, making the Roman celebration more “Christian”. It is after this that Valentine’s Day would take on a form we are more familiar with today.  The French and English believed that February 14th was the beginning of birds’ mating season, leading to more of a reason why this particular day should be set aside as a day for love. The first written record of Valentine’s Day as a holiday was in a 1375 poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, titled “Parliament of Foules”. The mention goes as such, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Wan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” 

 

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