Valentine's Day honors
one or two early saints who were called Valentinus. The
holiday celebrates romance and romantic love in many
places around the world.
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 of Rome was a 3rd century Roman saint
commemorated on February 14th - he was martyred and
buried at a cemetery o the Via Flaminia. He was put in
prison for performing weddings for soldiers - who were
forbidden to marry - and for ministering to Christians
where were persecuted under the Roman Empire. The legend
says that while he was in prison, Saint Valentine
restored sight to the blind daughter of his judge and
that before he was executed wrote the girl a letter
signed "Your Valentine" as his farewell. It is unknown
if this was one person or an alias used by several.
There is little known about Saint Valentine - and in
1969 the Catholic Church removed his name from the
General Roman Calendar. However he is still recognized
as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
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.
Actually according to the
Catholic Encyclopedia, there are three Saint Valentines
who are tied to February 14th. One was a Roman priest,
another the bishop of Interamna. They are both buried
outside of Rome on the Via Flaminia at different
distances from the city. The third was a saint who
suffered on the same day with others in the Roman
province of Africa. However nothing else is known about
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!"