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 was a 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. Let’s dive into the three most popular tales of “St. Valentine.”
In one version, Valentine is a Roman priest who was arrested for his practices and beliefs. He told one of the guards he could heal his daughter’s blindness and, once he did in fact heal her, the guard 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, since the 3rd century isn’t full of a lot of happy endings.
It was also said that Claudius Gothicus outlawed marriage in this time because “men made better soldiers rather than staying at home with their wives.” St. Valentine allegedly went on performing marriages in secret. According to the legend, he 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 exact story is a bit murky, all of the stories available emphasize the appeal of a heroic and romantic figure.
Another Spin on the History
Others believe the Christian church only selected mid-February for the holiday to cover up the pagan celebration of Lupecalia. Known as the fertility festival, Lupecalia was a gathering of Roman priests on February 13th-15th. This crazy festival consisted of sacrificing a dog and a goat and then covering women with the hide of the animals and walking through 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!)