Every February 14th millions across the globe exchange heart shaped cards, flowers, and candy in honor of love. The tradition is said to have come from St. Valentine but who is this mysterious saint and why are we celebrating him?
Many believe he is the beloved martyr who was executed in Ancient Rome in 3rd century A.D. However, there were actually several men with name Valentine or Valentinus known to be executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus. During this time, Christians were often prosecuted for their beliefs. Lets dive into the three most popular tales of “St. Valentine”.
One is said to be a Roman priest who was arrested for his practices and beliefs. He told one of the guards he could heal his daughter from blindness and once he did, in fact heal her, the man and his entire family were converted. Once word got around, everyone involved in the story including Valentine, were executed.
The second story is very similar except it is an Italian bishop who heals a man’s son. The ending is tragically the same, I didn’t say this historical segment was full of roses and rainbows, I mean it’s the 3rd century and things were pretty dark.
It was also said that ol’ Claudius Gothicus outlawed marriage in this time because “men made better soldiers rather than staying at home with their wives”. St. Valentine allegedly would go around performing secret marriages. According to the legend, this man was arrested and during his imprisonment, he fell in love with a woman who visited him during his confinement. He sent her letters signed “from your Valentine” which is said to be the first valentines ever sent.
Although the history is a bit muddy, as is most history around this time, we can’t be sure of the truth but either way, all of the stories available emphasize the appeal of a heroic and romantic figure.
Another spin on history
Others believe the Christian church only put the holiday in mid February to cover up the pagan celebration of Lupecalia. This is where things get really weird. Lupecalia was known as the fertility festival which was a gathering of Roman priests on February 13th-15th. This crazy festival consisted of sacrificing a dog and a goat and then covering the women with the hide of the animals and walking throughout the streets for what they believed promoted fertility. It is said that the names of the women were also placed in an urn for men to pick from. This festival was eventually outlawed (thank goodness!)
Valentine’s day became more widely spread with many other traditions and especially with Shakespeare’s’ Ophelia calling herself “Hamlet’s valentine”.