Feb 13, 2011

A History of Valentine's Day

What have I really ever known about Valentine's Day?

Valentine's Day is celebrated every year on February 14th.

It is a day to give goodies, flowers, gifts, and cards to people we love, especially our sweethearts. It's a day to give a super-duper, extra dose of affection and admiration to our one and only "I'd take a bullet for you" true love.

What else?

Valentine's Day is named after a guy, but not just any ordinary guy, a Saint, which makes him a really good guy. Valentine's Day is named after St. Valentine.

And that's about it. That's what I've always known about Valentine's Day.

So, let's try to find out more, shall we?

The optimal word here is try, because to tell the truth, the history of Valentine's Day is about as clear as mud.

One thing we definitely do know is that Valentine's Day was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD and that he named it after a Saint Valentine. What we don't know is which Saint Valentine because there were three saints named Valentine who were all martyred. Furthermore, some sources say they were all Martyred on February 14.

One St. Valentine, whose martyrdom supposedly took place on February 14, was killed in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing else is known about him, so we can pretty much rule him out as our Saint of love, although he most likely was a very lovely fellow.

The other two St. Valentines were St. Valentine of Terni, a bishop from about AD 197 and St. Valentine of  Rome, a priest who was martyred about AD 269. Unfortunately there is not a clear distinction between the two men and their stories. Some sources claim St. Valentine of Terni as the namesake for Valentine's Day while other sources claim St. Valentine of Rome.

Valentine's Day Origins Based on Legends

Now, on to the legends of how Valentine's Day may have come to be.

In ancient Rome there was a festival of fertility, called Lupercalia, held each year on February 15th. It was a pagan celebration in which various bizarre practices occurred. It involved things such as the sacrifice of a goat and a dog, young men running through the streets slapping young women with bloody strips of hide to endow the women with fertility, and young men drawing names of young women to be partnered with for a year. As Christianity began to rise in Europe, many pagan holidays were renamed, refashioned, and dedicated to the early Christian martyrs. It is supposed that in 496 AD Pope Gelasius I turned Lupercalia into a Christian feast day and changed the date to February 14 dedicating it in honor of St. Valentine.

What are the Stories Surrounding St. Valentine?

The most popular story tells us that around 270 AD there was a Roman emperor named Claudius II. Claudius II wanted to build a great army but believed that many of the men in his army who were married made undesirable soldiers because they were too busy thinking about their wives and children. He made a decree outlawing all new marriages so that he could hone all the young men into strong soldiers for his army.  Saint Valentine, who was a priest, thought this decree unjust so he began marrying young couples in secret, which was a brave and defiant act. More and more young couples who heard of the compassionate priest met with him in secret to be married but before long he was found out.

Claudius II ordered the arrest of St. Valentine and had him brought to him. Although St. Valentine had defied the emperor's ban on marriage Claudius II was impressed by Valentine. It is said that Claudius II  told St. Valentine that if he would convert to the Roman ways he would spare his life. Valentine refused, and even attempted to convert Claudius II to Christianity, which Claudius II promptly responded to with an order of beheading.  

The story further goes on to say that while St. Valentine was awaiting his sentence in prison he became friends with the jailer and the jailer's daughter who was blind. Some versions of the story say that St. Valentine miraculously healed the jailer's daughter. Some versions also say that he had fallen in love with her. Some sources say that whether their relationship was one of friendship or love, on the day of St. Valentine's execution he wrote her a note of farewell signing it "From Your Valentine", and other sources say that's balderdash.

There are various versions of these stories and extended versions of how Valentine's Day came to be what we know today. If you want to know more be sure to check it out.

Sources: Wikipedia.org, History.com, TheHolidaySpot.com

1 comment:

  1. Clear as mud is right! I looked this one up too and had a heck of a time trying to make any sense of it. So many details and not enough clear sources online combined with the fact that the history is hazy too. Ugh!

    Love your write up on it, it was a lot of fun to read. You captured the details in such an interesting way.