Valentines Day History

Who was the real St. Valentine and how did this romantic holiday come into being?

Valentine's Day. Did you ever wonder about the who and the why of this romantic holiday? Who was this person called St. Valentine? And why, if he was a saint and a devoted religious figure, did he come to be associated with a celebration of amore`, lovers and Cupid?

In the 20th century we celebrate February 14th with the exhange of candy and cards. Children give out cute little heart-shaped greetings that proclaim their affection for classmates and teachers. Today's valentine cards are graced with the likes of Scooby Doo, Spider Man, Winnie the Pooh and, of course, Cupid! But in 5th century Rome, where the whole business allegedly began, it was a different story. On February 15th the festival of Lupercalia was celebrated to ensure protection from wolves. The celebration paid homage the gods Faunus and Lupercus, as well as the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. According to myth, Romulus and Remus were suckled by wolves at a cave on the Palatine Hill, in the city of Rome. The Romans appropriately named this cave the Lupercal, and used it as the center of Lupercalia ceremonies. Young men called Luperci(priests) were reported to have struck people with strips of animal hide. Women accepted the blows because they felt that this whipping would increase their fertility.

In the Roman society a young man's rite of passage was celebrated with this pagan celebration to the god Lupercus. As time went on Lupercalia began to be celebrated with a lottery in which the young men would draw the names of the teenage gals from a box. The lucky, or not so lucky, girl would then be the fellow's sexual partner during the remaining year. Often the lady would receive a gift or a greeting in the name of Juno, a Roman goddess.

Okay, and what about St. Valentine? Although many scholars agree that Lupercalia was moved from Feb. 15th to the 14th and was Christianized by associating it with this St. Valentine character, it is still unclear just who the historical St. Valentine was. One school of thought believes that he was a Roman martyred for refusing to give up his Christian faith. Legend has it that through the vehicle of his strong faith he healed the blind daughter of his jailer, and then, before his execution, sent her a farewell note signed "From Your Valentine." Other historians hold that St. Valentine was a temple priest, who was jailed for defiance, about the year A.D. 269, during the reign of Claudius the Goth. Emporer Claudius was having trouble recruiting strong young men for his army and believed that marriage was the culprit. He believed it made the men weak. This St. Valentine was said to have performed many secret marriages of young lovers, despite an edict that marriage was illegal. When Claudius first heard about Valentine he tried to convert him to his paganism. In turn Valentine attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity. When his effort failed the poor fellow was stoned and beheaded! Whoever he was, we know he was an actual person because archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to a Saint Valentine. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom. In an effort to do away with the harsh pagan festival, Pope Gelasius ordered a slight change in the lottery. Instead of the names of young women, the box would now contain the names of saints. Both the guys and the gals were allowed to draw from the box, and the game was to emulate the ways of the saint they drew during the rest of the year. This was not too exciting for many of those Roman men! Now, instead of the pagan god Lupercus, the Church desired to find a suitable patron saint of love to take his place. They found an appropriate choice in the nobel St. Valentine.

Although the lottery for women had been banned by the church, the holiday celebrated in mid-February in commemoration to St. Valentine was still practiced. It became a time for the fellows to give the gals that they were fond of messages of love.

The first true valentine card is said to have been sent out in 1415 by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife. This romantic card was sent from the Tower of London, where Charles was imprisoned, having been captured during the Battle of Agincourt. In 1537, King Henry the Eighth, as it is chronicled, declared February 14th as St. Valentine's Day, by Royal Charter.

So much for Valentine, how about that sassy Cupid? Why does he rate his high standing on this historic day? In Greek mythology he was called Eros, the young son of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love. To the Romans, he was Cupid and his mother was Venus. The ancients described him as having both a cruel and a happy nature. His cruelty is said to have been displayed in the treatment of the beautiful but mortal princess Psyche, Cupid's wife. Cupid refused to be with his wife unless it was under the cover of darkness because a mortal wasn't permitted to view a god. He loved his wife dearly, but, she was forbidden to ever see what he looked like. One night while Cupid was sleeping, Psyche lit a lamp so she could see her husband. Cupid awoke and fled in anger. Other myths, however,describe Cupid as a happy and handsome lad who united lovers. As time progressed he began to be portrayed as a chubby and naked infant with wings, holding a bow and arrows. If a person happened to be shot with one of cupid's arrows, allegedly he(or she) would fall in love! Today we see the melding of Christianity and paganism with St. Valentine being honored by the chubby Roman cherub with wings.

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