Origin of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day: Feb 14, 2012

Part 1

The Origin of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day, February 14, is an annual celebration celebrating love and affection between individuals. It is a day on which lovers express their feelings through flowers, confectionery, heart symbols, doves, greeting cards or even more creative means.

Originally it was established by Pope Gelasius in 496 AD to mark some of the early Christian martyrs Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Needless to say, Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred around AD 269. Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna about 197 AD and was martyred during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian. This association persisted till 1969 when it was deleted from the General Roman calendar of saints by Pope Paul VI.  Actually no romantic elements existed in the medieval biographies of either of these martyrs. By the time a Saint Valentine became linked to romance in the 14the century any connection to Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni were completely lost.

Accordingly in the accounts of Legenda Aurea, St Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person; during which Claudius was impressed by Valentine and, through a lengthy discussion, strove to convert Valentine to Roman paganism in order to spare his life. Valentine not only refused, but also did his best to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Valentine was condemned to death however before his demise he performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer. Since the accounts of Legenda Aurea offered no connection to sentimental love a suitable tale was embellished in present times to depict Valentine as a priest who disobeyed the unjust law of Emperor Claudius II. This law had stipulated that, in order to build the Emperor’s army, young men were to remain single, on the assumption that married man made poor soldiers. The defiant priest Valentine, whenever the need arose, covertly performed several marriage ceremonies. When this was discovered Valentine was arrested and thrown in jail.  There is an interesting addendum, unsupported by historical fact, to this legend, provided of course by American Greeting to History.com. : Ostensibly on the evening just before Valentine was to be executed, he had written a note with the heading: “From your Valentine” addressed to the daughter of the jailer whom he had supposedly healed.  This was the first, and original, Valentine’s Card,

Some modern sources have linked vague Greco-Roman February holidays devoted to fertility and love to St. Valentine’s Day.  Lupercalia, an archaic rite connected to fertility, was observed Feb 13-15 in Rome.  Pope Gelasius I (492-496) abolished Lupercalia in favor of the two Valentines’ Saints Days.  Meanwhile, The Festival of Juno Februa, meaning “Juno the purifier” or “the chaste Juno”, was also celebrated on Feb 13-14.

The first recorded link of Valentine’s Day with romantic love was found in 1382, in the “Parlement of Foules” by Geoffrey Chauncer. It said:  “For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” (For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.)

The poem was written as a tribute of the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. A treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381. When they were married eight months later, they were each only 15 years old. Many have supposed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine’s Day; but as Henry Ansgar Kelly has pointed out, May 2 is the saints’ day for Valentine of Genoa. This St. Valentine was an early bishop of Genoa who died around AD 307.  Furthermore, Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules is set in a fictional context of an old tradition, but in fact there was no such tradition before Chaucer. More likely it is sentimental customs posing as historical fact.  Nevertheless, these were persistently linked with romantic love in the circle of Goeffrey Chauncer in the High Middle ages, when the convention of courtly love flourished. Professor Jack  Oruch of Kansas University, disputes Chauncer’s claim of the supposed connection between Saints named Veleninus and romantic love, on the hypothesis that it more likely be a sacrifice, such as in Ancient Greece during the time period between mid January to mid February (the month of Gamelion, the time reserved for celebrating the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera).

In 1400 the rituals of courtly love; a “High Court of Love” was established in Paris on Valentine’s Day.  In those days the court ordinarily dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Oddly enough Judges were selected by women on the basis of skill in poetry reading. The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife. At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415. Here is an example:  Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…   (Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2)

In Hamlet (1600-1601) Valentine’s Day is mentioned sorrowfully by Ophelia:

“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.”

(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

The popular verse:  Roses are red are traceable all the way back to Edmund Spencer’s epic The Faerie Queene (1590):

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

The modern clichéd Valentine’s Day poem can be found in the collection of English nursery rhymes Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784):

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
the honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou are my love and I am thine
I drew thee to my Valentine

The lot was cast and then I drew,
and Fortune said it shou’d be you.”

In 1797 The Young Man’s Valentine Writer contained many suggested, suitably sentimental verses for the young lover incapable of composing one himself.  The next century saw readymade cards with verses and sketches that prospered due to the reduced postal rates and the possibility of anonymous exchange. You can grasp the popularity of Valentine’s sentiments in the otherwise prudish Victorian Era.  Even in the United States of 1847 the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were made by Esther Howland (1828–1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts gained ground and begun selling briskly shortly after. By 1849, as it was astutely stated by the writer Leigh Eric Schmidt in Graham’s American Monthly: “Saint Valentine’s Day… is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday.” Indeed in the early 19th century attractive Valentine cards were being made with real lace, paper lace and ribbons and were assembled in many English factories. In the UK, just under half of the population spent their hard earned money on their Valentines and to date, more than 1.3 billion pounds are spent yearly on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, and an estimated 25 million cards are sent.

In the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards has expanded into a vast array of gift giving:  this includes roses and chocolates packed in red satin, heart-shaped boxes. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewellery. Valentine exchange is no longer restricted to lovers. Many valentines are now given to family members other than the husband or wife, usually to children. The greeting cards of these students sometimes mention what they appreciate about each other and most of them are given to their teacher. In this digital age, millions have now adopted this means of creating and sending Valentine’s Day greetings in e-cards, love coupons or printable greeting cards. An estimated 15 million e-valentines were sent in 2010. Social media has played a great role in commercializing American’s Valentine’s Day Spending.

Wishing you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!




One response to “Origin of Valentine’s Day

  1. Happy Valentines Day to you, too.

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