THE LEGEND OF ST. VALENTINE
The history of Valentine’s Day, and the story of its patron Saint is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. Who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?
The Catholic Church recognises at least three different Saint’s named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realising the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Valentine’s actions were, however, discovered and Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to another legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “Valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl, possibly his jailor’s daughter, who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is said that he wrote her a letter signed, “From your Valentine. ” This expressions still in use today.
The truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasise his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and, most importantly a romantic figure.
By the middle ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular Saints in England and France.
ORIGINS OF VALENTINE’S DAY AS A PAGAN FESTIVAL IN FEBRUARY
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial, that has been said, probably occurred around A.D. 270, others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianise” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, celebrated around February 15. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather in a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or Lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets,
gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year.
According to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
VALENTINE’S DAY: A DAY OF ROMANCE
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed, as it was deemed “Not Christian” at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14, St. Valentine’s Day.
It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love.
During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, although written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the battle of Agincourt. That greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.
Several years later, it is believed that, King Henry V, hired a writer named John
Lydgate to compose a Valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
Happy Valentine’s Day
I look forward to supporting you.