Today is Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. But who is St. Valentine? The Roman church recognized three martyred Valentines as saints. One of these, St. Valentine of Rome, was a priest who performed marriages against the dictum of Emperor Claudius who had outlawed marriage. Claudius declared single men made better soldiers than married men, so he would not allow men to marry. Valentine opposed Claudius’ dictum, performed marriages, and was killed for doing so.

Another Valentine, St. Valentine of Terni (also Italian), during his imprisonment for having helped others escape the brutality inflicted on them while imprisoned, fell in love with a young girl who often visited him. At one point, he sent her a message signed From Your Valentine, an expression still used today. This is a beautiful story but cannot be corroborated. This Valentine became quite popular outside of Rome in today’s England and France.

The third St. Valentine emigrated from North Africa to Rome, where many North Africans helped form the Roman world. Little is known about this Valentine except he would have been a black man. No romantic associations have been linked to this Valentine.

Who is the real St. Valentine? All three were martyred, but only the first two (above) were associated with romance. History has come to associate the first Valentine of Rome as the saint of love. This Valentine was beheaded, today an unlikely association with love. In actual practice, since we know so little about these men, all three have merged into one person known as Valentius, a name meaning strong or powerful.

Origin of  Valentine’s Day

Every year throughout the world, Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th. It is a day to express love and fondness to another, often with chocolate, wine, roses, greeting cards, or other gifts. How did these expressions of love come about, and why on this special day?

Valentine’s Day is shrouded in some mystery. February has long been associated with romance, even though the reasons are not clear. The Day has elements of both Christian and secular Roman tradition deriving from the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a feast day celebrating the god of agriculture as well as the founders of Rome—Remus and Romulus.

On this day, a goat was sacrificed and its hide stripped into ribbons, dipped into the goat’s blood, and slapped gently against women and crops to promote fertility for the year. Hence the color of red associated with Valentine’s Day. Single women in Rome would write their name on a slip of paper, drop it into an urn, and single men would draw out a name for their future wife.

Museo del Cocoa Cuenca

In the Fifth Century, the Church outlawed this secular practice when Pope Gelasius declared February 14th to be St. Valentine’s Day. Residents of England and France also chose the middle of February to celebrate romance, having witnessed this as a time when birds began their mating season.

The Earliest St. Valentine’s Day Greetings

Love and romance were not always associated with Valentine’s Day. The first linking of these passions to February 14th occurred in 1375 when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his poem Parleament of Foules” (modernized to Parliament of Fowles). Since Foules indicated birds or fowls; the reference to the mating season of birds is clear. Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” This poem is now considered to be the first reference to love on Valentine’s Day.

The oldest known Valentine written greeting was composed in 1415 by Charles, French Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture during the Battle of Agincourt. Later, King Henry V hired John Lydgate to compose a greeting which he sent on Valentine’s Day to his wife, Catherine of Valois.

musical chocolates – museodelcacaocuenca


Long associated with Valentine’s Day is the cuddly little half-dressed cherubic character with his quiver of arrows. He was not always depicted as cherubic. Cupid originated with the Greeks as the God of Love, a stout macho man named Eros. It was the Romans who turned him into the sweet baby angel we think of today.

In both civilizations, Cupid carried arrows tipped in gold and lead. The fable tells us he shot the gold-tipped arrow into someone to arouse their desire or the lead-tipped arrow to ignite their disgust. He shot his arrows into both humans and gods, manipulating their emotions as he saw fit. One telling of the fable states  Cupid shot a gold-tipped arrow into  Apollo to cause him to fall madly in love with Daphne, followed by a lead-tipped arrow at Daphne to cause her to be disgusted by Apollo. Eventually, Daphne turns into a laurel tree and Apollo can do nothing but wear a crown of laurel leaves.

Today is Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine would undoubtedly be surprised to see what his day has become. Today, chocolate and roses reign supreme. Have you been hit with one of Cupid’s arrows?

Fact: The first mass-produced valentine cards appeared in the 1840s
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Chocolate Anyone?

Gold has always been sought in Ecuador. The Conquistadors scoured Ecuador for these deposits, as they did throughout South America. Their intent was to extract whatever resources they could from the continent, even while attempting to convert the indigenous to Catholicism. One of these resources was liquid chocolate, a commodity that became all the rage in Europe.

At the same time, the Incas used chocolate as currency, as it was valued for its taste and its perceived magical qualities. Francisco Valdez, an archaeologist, dug up some pottery that contained microscopic remnants of cocoa. Is it possible that Ecuador is the original home for the cocoa bean? This discovery in the Amazon indicates that cocoa beans were being harvested and added to the diet of the indigenous more than 5,000 years ago.

Out on a Limb

There was a chocolate boom in the 1800s and Ecuador, as the largest producer of cocoa, saw fortunes made almost over night. This was attributed to the high quality of the cocoa bean found in Ecuador. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, is attributed to making the first chocolate bar in 1847, a treat that soared in popularity throughout the world. The boom lasted until 1916 when the Ecuador crop was hit by a fungus that crushed plantations for many years. Abroad, Fry’s Chocolates survived for several generations, eventually merging with their strongest competitor, Cadbury Brothers. In 2011, the company closed its British operations and move to Poland.

Ecuador’s cocoa beans are known as Nacional or Arriba, the latter indicating the location of this delightful taste. The Arriba beans vary in taste and size relative to the area where they grow. With the advent of the popularity of dark chocolate, Ecuador became the pre-eminent exporter of fine beans until the growers realized that it was to their advantage to retain the beans and develop their own savory bars.

A Handful of Beans

This new focus resulted in smaller-sized family operations, focusing on quality over quantity. These operations also made a shift toward the popular, producing dark chocolate. This has resulted in a market share of about 63% fine Arriba chocolate sold throughout the world. Ecuadorians continue to explore dark chocolate flavors by adding new ingredients such as hot chili, sea salt, and roses. The variety of Ecuadorian chocolate has expanded but one thing remains the same: it is still in high demand.

Fact: “Ecuador’s cacao zone is to chocolate cognoscenti what Bordeaux is to wine-lovers.” (The Economist)
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At the Chocolate Factory

Once again, I have asked my friend Myra to share with us one of her recent posts. She has been in Boquete longer than I have been and gotten to places I have yet to visit. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel, so I welcome her post which I think you will enjoy:

Please visit Myra’s blog at Thanks, Myra.

Fact: Chocolate is big business in Boquete
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