5th Century, Rome
Mid-February was traditionally the time of the Lupercian festival, an ode to the God of fertility and a celebration of sensual pleasure, a time to meet and court a prospective mate. In AD 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival. But he was clever to replace it with a a similar celebration, although one deemed morally suitable. He needed a "lovers" saint to replace the pagan deity Lupercus.
The martyred Bishop Valentine was chosen as the patron saint of the new festival.
Saint Valentine had been beheaded for helping young lovers marry against the wishes of the mad emperor Claudius. Before execution, Valentine himself had fallen in love with his jailer's daughter. He signed his final note to her, "From Your Valentine", a phrase that has lasted through the centuries.
Pope Gelasius didn't get everything he wanted. The pagan festival died out, it is true, but he had further hoped people would emulate the lives of saints. Instead they latched onto the more romantic aspect of Saint Valentines religious life. While not immediately as popular as the more passionate pagan festival, eventually the concept of celebrating true love became known as Valentine's Day.
Of course no one knows
how much of this is really true! Most say there's
no connection between St Valentine and Lupercus.
However, Valentine's Day
and romantic love became linked during the times of
Geoffrey Chaucer. Courtly love flourished in the
High Middle Ages. In 18th century England lovers
began to express their feelings for each other much like
they do today - with flowers, candy and sweets and
'Valentine's' cards or notes.
The customs and
traditions around Valentine's Day differ not only from
country to country - but from region to region in many
countries! By the late 1700s the making of
Valentine's cards had become more common and a reduction
in postal rates brought the sending of Valentines even
more popular because it was possible to send Valentine's
anonymously. Paper Valentines became so popular in
the early 19th century that they were being manufactured
in factories. Today Valentine's cards are still
one of the most popular ways to say 'I love you!"