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.
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.
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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