Have you ever wondered how Valentine’s Day came to be?
The Story behind St. Valentines Day is a fascinating one. Although February 14th is celebrated as a lovers’ holiday today, with the giving of candy, flowers, Valentine’s Day card and other gifts between couples in love, it originated as a tribute to St. Valentine, a Catholic bishop.
As early as the fourth century B.C., the Romans engaged in an annual young man’s rite of passage to the God Lupercus. It’s earliest orgin was the Roman festival Lupercalia, observed on Feb. 15. Lupercalia celebrated the coming of Spring on the Roman calendar. Lupercalia became a celebration intended to ensure the fertility of flocks, fields and people.
The names of the teenage women were placed in a box and drawn at random by adolescent men; thus, a man was assigned a woman companion (a sexual partner) for the duration of the year, after which another lottery was staged. After eight hundred years of this cruel practice, the early church fathers sought to end this practice.
In an effort to do away with the pagan festival, Pope Gelasius ordered a slight change in the lottery. Instead of the names of young women, the box would contain the names of saints. Both men and women 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. Needless to say, many of the young Roman men were not too pleased with the rule changes.
Instead of the pagan god Lupercus, the Church looked for a suitable patron saint of love to take his place. They found an appropriate choice in Valentine, who, in 270 AD had been beheaded by Emperor Claudius.
According to church tradition, St. Valentine was a priest near Rome. At that time the Roman Emperor, Claudius II, had issued an edict forbidding marriage. Claudius had determined that married men made poor soldiers because they were emotionally attached to their families. So he banned marriage from his empire.
Valentine, a bishop , seeing the trauma of young lovers, met with them in a secret place, and joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. When Claudius found out about this “friend of lovers,” Valentine was thrown in jail and condemned to death.
While Valentine was in prison awaiting his fate, he befriended his jailer, Asterius, who had a blind daughter. Asterius’ daughter befriended the kind priest by bringing food and messages to him. Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Asterius requested that he heal his daughter. Through his faith he miraculously restored the sight of Asterius’ daughter and converted the two of them to Christianity.
After some time in prison the priest was ordered to appear before the Emperor. The emperor, impressed with the young priest’s dignity and conviction, first tried to convert him to paganism to save him from certain execution. But Valentine reversed the strategy, trying instead to convert Claudius. He failed. Just before his execution, he asked for pen and paper from his jailor, and signed a farewell message to the jailer’s daughter and signed it, “From Your Valentine.” He was stoned and beheaded on February 24, 270 AD.
Valentine become a Patron Saint, and spiritual overseer of the annual festival. Although the lottery for women had been banned by the church, the mid-February holiday in commemoration of St. Valentine, involved young Romans offering women they admired and wished to court, handwritten greetings of affection on February 14th.
The greetings eventually acquired the St. Valentine’s name. One of the earliest cards was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time. The card is now preserved in the British Museum.ÊÊÊ