Happy Valentines Day!
Whilst it’s easy to be caught up in the flowers and chocolates that today surround the holiday, looking into the legend of St Valentine and the origins of February 14th is really interesting. Valentine’s Day has become the second most popular card sending holiday right after Christmas, with 150 million cards being given every year.
The history of the day, along with the story of St Valentine himself is mysterious with many stories being fabricated through the years. Valentines Day contains vestiges of both ancient Roman and Christian traditions- but what are these, who was St Valentine and why do we still celebrate this day with such enthusiasm so many years later?
There are two main theories as to why Valentine’s Day lands on the 14th February- one is simply that it commemorates the day of the Patron Saint’s death or burial (around the year 270 A.D.) Other theorists claim that it was the Christian Church who long ago decided to celebrate with a feast in mid-February to Christianise Lupercalia- a Pagan celebration. Lupercalia was a fertility festival, dedicated to the Roman God of agriculture, Faunus- as well as Romulus and Remus, the Roman founders.
Lupercalia celebration was deemed ‘un-Christian’ by the end of the 5th Century as Pope Gelasius decided February 14th was to be St. Valentine’s Day. However at this time, it wasn’t associated with love- in France and England it was thought that February 14th was the beginning of birds’ mating season; perhaps today this is the association with all the birds we see on cards.
Of course, cards like we send today weren’t sent during this period, in fact, the oldest known Valentine we know is a poem, written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans, Charles, who wrote it to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London after he was captured during the Battle of Agincourt. During the 25 years he spent in the prison, he wrote 60 love poems to the Duchess- she died before she received this Valentine; the manuscripts are now in the British Library.
Photo Credit: BBC
Since then, it developed to hand written notes and small tokens of affection that were exchanged. Hand made cards began to be exchanged in America in the early 1700s. During the 1840s, it was Esther A. Howland who began to sell the very first mass produced Valentine’s Day cards- one example can be seen below, but make sure to take a look at others as they’re really beautiful crafts! According to many websites, Esther has been deemed the ‘Mother of the Valentine,’ creating cards by using colourful ‘scrap’ pictures, ribbon, lace and other craft pieces.
It remains unknown who St. Valentine specifically was, and which the Pope intended to honour; according to the ‘Catholic Encyclopaedia,’ there were at least three Saints a the time who went by that name. One, a Bishop in Terni, another a Priest in Rome, and the third we largely know nothing about, except that he died in Africa. In a spooky coincidence, all three St. Valentine’s were martyred on February 14th.
It’s interesting that the tradition remains all these years later, when, if you research the day, we largely don’t know why it began or for who we are celebrating. Though Valentine’s Day today has become a huge (and profitable) holiday, perhaps we shouldn’t grumble and instead be happy at any celebration of love.