In February everyone’s heart turns to love… and chocolate… but mostly to love. February 14 is the day we show those special people in our lives how much we truly care. But did you ever wonder why? Who was Saint Valentine? And why is February 14 so special? Well, let’s have a look at the history of Valentine’s day and see if we can find out…
Who was Saint Valentine?
According to legend, Valentine was a priest who lived in Rome during the third century. At that time, Emperor Claudius II, who liked going to war, discovered that married men didn’t make very good soldiers. For some reason, they were more concerned about staying alive and providing for their wives and children than about enlarging the empire for him. So, he simply outlawed marriage for men of soldiering age.
But Vicar Valentine was a romantic at heart. He couldn’t bear seeing young lovers unable to marry, so he defied the Emperor and performed marriages anyway – in secret, of course.
When Emperor Claudius found out about Valentine’s betrayal, he was furious. And Valentine found himself in a Roman prison waiting to meet his maker. While he was waiting, the jailor’s daughter would bring him his meals every day and they would chat. Soon the romantic Valentine and the kind jailor’s daughter had fallen desperately in love.
But, alas, Valentine’s fate was still awaiting him. As he was being led to his death past the tearful jailor’s daughter, he slipped something in her hand. It was a piece of paper cut into the shape of a heart on which the sentimental priest had declared his love for her. He signed it “Your Valentine.”
It’s hard to say how much of this legend is actually true since records from those days are scarce and the heart-shaped note, if it ever existed, is long gone. But, as they say, one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Why February 14?
Long after Valentine died, he was proclaimed a saint, and his saint day was set as February 14. Supposedly, this was the date on which the tender-hearted priest was martyred and that may be true, but maybe there was another reason this date was picked.
Some say that February 14 was chosen to divert attention away from a pagan Roman festival called Lupercalia which was held February 13-15. In this wild event, young men would go the cave where Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were supposedly cared for by a she-wolf (lupa). They would sacrifice a goat then feast on goat meat and drink (a lot). Then they would make themselves goatskin loincloths and cut some of the skin into strips that they would dip in the goat blood.
The fun continued as they ran nearly naked through the streets whipping women with the leather strips. It was a ceremony of fertility and women lined up, often baring their backs, to be slapped with the bloody hide. They believed this would make them more fertile during the coming year.
Aside from the whippings, this festival was also a time of coupling up. The names of all single women were put into a pot and then drawn out by the single men. The newly-formed couple would be paired for the duration of the festival. Sometimes this pairing up would turn into love and marriage.
But there was something about this pagan festival that annoyed Pope Gelasius, and in 496 he convinced the authorities to ban it. This was right around the same time that he declared February 14 as Saint Valentine’s Day.
Since the young men were now forbidden to run naked through the streets whipping women, they had to change their tactics and come up with other ways to woo the ladies. Thank you, Pope Gelasius!
Nowadays, instead of whippings, men (and women) present those they love with chocolate, flowers, and jewelry – a much better way to win one’s heart, in my opinion. And instead of picking names from a jar, we now send cards, hoping to find our true love… but we still sign them “Your Valentine.”
For a quirky bit of Valentine’s Day history:
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