St Valentine's Day

The History Of St Valentines Day

According to legend, Emperor Claudius II had decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families and so outlawed marriage. Valentine (who was a 3rd century martyred priest) thought this was all a bit unfair and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When he got caught Claudius ordered that he be put in prison.

Apparently the 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 alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine”, and that’s how it all started.

Although the truth behind the many Valentine legends is actually rather vague the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and – most importantly – romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death around 270 A.D 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 “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or 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.

This fits with the fact that 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. It was said that birds propose to each other or marry on that day – awwww, how sweet!

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.

In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.

6 Interesting Valentines Facts

  1. Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy, among many other things.
  2. You can find Valentine’s skull in Rome.
    The flower-adorned skull of one of the many St. Valentines is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome. His skeletal remains and many other artifacts were uncovered when a catacomb was excavated near Rome In the early 1800s. These bits and pieces of the late saint’s body have subsequently been distributed around the world; to the Czech Republic, Ireland, Scotland, England and France.
  3. Chaucer may have invented Valentine’s Day.
    The medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in his “Parliament of Foules” links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day – an association that didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention. The poem refers to February 14 as the day birds (and humans) come together to find a mate. When Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” he may have invented the holiday as we know it today!
  4. In Norfolk, a character called ‘Jack’ Valentine knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets and presents for children. Although leaving treats, many children are scared of this mystical person.
  5. An ancient proverb says that “Saint Valentine brings the keys of roots”, plants and flowers starting to grow on Valentines Day. It is in many places celebrated as the day when the first work in vineyards and fields commences.
  6. The Roman priests of Lupercus (the God of Fertility) used to perform a traditional purification ritual, slaughtering goats to the god, and after consuming wine, would run through the streets of Rome slapping people with strips of bloody goat skin. Floods of young women would flock to the streets in the belief that being touched would improve their chances of conceiving and bring forth easy childbirth.

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you

Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784)

And finally,  a Valentines Quote for you:

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

 

Article by Jem on 14 February 2015

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