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A No-Nonsense History of Valentine’s Day

Whenever you think of Valentine’s day, what comes to your mind? Perhaps, the face of your sweetheart? Or your crush in his/her killer outfit? You see, 14th February has become a symbol of love & romance. But what was the real history behind Valentine’s day? What is the origin of Valentine’s day? Was it also as lovey-dovey as it is portrayed today? Or were there some dark truths behind it? Read on to discover more about the origin of Valentine’s day.

The Origin of Valentine’s Day


There are various legends surrounding the origins of Valentine’s day. To be honest, the real origin of Valentine’s day is still clouded with mystery. What we do know for sure is that Valentine’s Day is named after St Valentine. But you may wonder...


Who was Saint Valentine?


There were at least three Christian Saints who go by the name of Saint Valentine. They are -

  • Valentine of Rome


He was a priest in Rome who was martyred in 269 A.D. It is believed that he is most likely the saint associated with Valentine’s day. Today, the flower-crowned skull of Valentine of Rome, can be found in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.

  • Valentine of Terni


He was a bishop of Terni who was martyred in 273 A.D. Few scholars argue that Valentine of Terni is the real saint associated with Valentine’s Day. 

  • A third St. Valentine -


The Catholic encyclopedia also mentions the third saint named as Valentine. Very little is known of him. He was martyred in Africa with a number of other companions. It’s likely he wasn’t the real Valentine.


The Valentine of Rome, who was martyred in 270 A.D, is believed to be the real Saint Valentine behind Valentine’s day. Some also believe Valentine of Terni & Valentine of Rome were same individuals. Interestingly, all 3 of them were martyred on 14th February. 

It’s almost impossible to obtain any historical record which gives an accurate history. But there are two main legends which are believed to be the real reasons for celebrating Valentine’s Day. 

The Real History of Valentine’s Day


The Legend of Saint Valentine


Back in the era of Claudius II, Rome was in a state of mess. The morale in the Roman army was low. Rome also needed a lot of new soldiers to maintain it’s already expanded empire. Claudius II believed that married men become emotionally attached to their wives & families. He believed married men become weak & do not make the strongest soldiers. So he banned all marriages for young men. This way more young men would be enlisted into the army.


Enter Saint Valentine.


Credits : www1.cbn.com/


Valentine recognized the desire for love in young couples. He believed that banning marriages was simply absurd & unjust. So he decided to help the young couples get married. He secretly performed marriages of couples in love. And that’s how the legend of Valentine was born. 

Why did Claudius have Valentine arrested?


Very soon Emperor Claudius II (also known as Claudius Gothicus) found out Valentine performing these secret marriages of young couples. In the eyes of Claudius II, Valentine was disobeying his law which banned all marriages. He ordered his troops to capture St. Valentine. As a result, St. Valentine was captured & put into prison.


While serving his prison sentence, he was approached by his jailer, Asterius. He knew St. Valentine had a special ability to heal people. So Asterius introduced Valentine to his blind-daughter Julia, asking the saint to give her vision. St. Valentine was able to give Julia her vision, thanks to his superpowers. Some scholars believe that Valentine had special powers. The others disagree.


Julia would frequently visit Valentine in his prison cell. They spoke to each other. Just like any other couple, they had fun spending time with each other. Over time, they bonded well & grew fond of each other. And soon, they fell in love.


Why did Claudius execute Valentine?


Legend has it that Emperor Claudius II interrogated Valentine in person in jail. The Emperor even attempted to convert Valentine to Roman paganism. Valentine refused. He rather went a step further by attempting to convert Emperor Claudius to Christanity. This angered the emperor who ordered the execution of Valentine.


Valentine was beheaded on 14th February. But his legend & spirit only grew from that day on.


“From Your Valentine”


Just the night before his execution, Valentine wrote a letter to Julie. A letter with the signed off with a classic quote - “From Your Valentine.” A quote which generations continue to remember. That’s how the legend of Valentine’s day began. But it’s only half of the story. The other half is given below.


The Roman Festival of Lupercalia.


Historians believe that the history of Valentine’s day originates from the Roman & Christian traditions. According to this legend, the origin of Valentine’s day can be traced back to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia.


Lupercalia was indeed a bloody festival. It used to be celebrated on 13-15 February. The festival demanded the sacrifice of a dog & a male goat. After the sacrifice, half nude men would rip off the skin of these animals to make an animal hide. And you know what they did with these hides? They would whip women with the hides of the animal that had just been sacrificed. This ritual would make women more fertile. Many of them believed in it. So young women would actually line up for men to hit them. Like literally whip them with the hides. Sounds like what Valentine’s day shouldn’t be. 


The Ancient Tinder


During the festival there was also a matchmaking lottery. Young men drew names of women from a jar. The paired couples would then spend the rest of the festival together. If they were a good match, they would end up marrying each other. That’s more like what Valentine’s day should look like. You can clearly see where the origins of Valentine’s day come from.


With the spread of Christianity in Europe during the 5th century, came along Pope Gelasius I. He understood how brutal the festival was. So he decided to Christianize the pagan festival. Pope Gelasius I turned Lupercalia into a Christian feast day to honor Saint Valentine. Yes, the very same Saint Valentine who was martyred in the third century! And around 270 A.D! Like mentioned previously it could have been either of the three Valentines! We know St. Valentine was martyred on 14th February. So the same day was chosen as the Christian feasting day by Pope Gelasius I to honour the great saint.


With this, at least the Christians put their clothes back & became more civil towards women. But the general attitude of young men & women stayed the same. You enjoy the festival with your loved one. If you like each other, you have found your special one! Pretty similar to swiping left or right on Tinder nowadays. You can learn more about Lupercalia festival from history.com.


So you see, the origin of Valentine's day is rooted in two stories. One story is about Saint Valentine himself. The other one is about the Lupercalia festival. With the rise of Christianity, the festival came to be known as Valentine’s day. 


But it wasn’t very popular. I mean at least love & Valentine didn’t go hand in hand. For that, we must thank the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.


Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer & Valentine’s day Connection.


Geoffrey Chaucer's poem “Parliament of Foules” popularized Valentine’s day as the day of love. It marked a point in history where people began to associate Valentine’s day with love. It basically sealed the deal. Talk about the power of great literature! The poem was published in 1375. Here are the popular quotes, the ones which made history - 


“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day” 

“Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”


During the middle ages, there was a popular notion among the French & British. It was popularly believed that 14th February was the beginning of the mating season of birds. This only helped cement the connection between Valentine’s day & love. 


All in all, we can say that history started with the legend of Saint Valentine. Later a pope wanted to Christianize an ancient Roman festival named Lupercalia. So he chose to honour the martyred Saint Valentine on 14th of February in 496. And later Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem built a definite connection between love & Valentine’s day. If you are still curious about Valentine's day, you can read this post on origins of Valentine's day.


Do you know who was one of the earliest & popular personality to write Valentine letter? Stay tuned for surprising facts about Valentine’s day.

 

I hope after reading the article, you are well versed with the history of Valentine. If you liked the article or found it useful, please share it with your friends.


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