History of Valentine’s Day | Do you know the real story?

History of valentines day

History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day, February 14, is considered the feast of lovers in many countries. Couples take the opportunity to exchange sweet words and gifts as proof of love as well as red roses which are the emblem of passion. Historians, perhaps hurt by the facetious history of Valentine’s day Cupid, are torn over its origin. The history of the Roman Empire has preserved the memory of two Valentinus who marked the 3rd century AD. The first, named Valentin de Terni, was a martyred bishop. The second, a simple priest, died tortured, too, a certain… February 14, 270, during the reign of Emperor Claudius II.

The Christian Church waited two centuries before canonizing Valentin de Terni. In 495, Pope Gelasius I made him the patron saint of engaged couples and lovers. In fact, it is grafted onto an ancient pagan festival that the Romans had been celebrating for hundreds of years. Indeed, on February 15, polytheistic mythology honored Lupercus, the god of fertility every year. These famous lupercalia were accompanied by animal sacrifices intended to appease the gods. Etymologically, Lupercus comes from the Latin lupus, the wolf. Legend has it that it was a maternal wolf who saved Romulus and Remus, the future founders of Rome.

Long History of Valentine’s Day

February 14 (a.d. XVI Kalendas Martias) corresponds, in the Roman religion, to the Lupercalia, faunas festivals taking place from February 13 to 15.

The real origin of this holiday is attested in the fourteenth century in still Catholic Great Britain where Valentine’s Day of February 14 was celebrated as a feast of lovers because it was believed that the birds chose this day for s ‘match. Remained alive in the Anglo-Saxon world, like Halloween, this holiday then spread across the continent in recent times.

The rapprochement or reconciliation of Valentine’s Day with lovers in the poems of Othon de Grandson, living in England, of Chaucer and his contemporary Charles of Orleans (1394-1465) then held captive in England who often alludes to on Valentine’s Day, the day when lovers chose their partner or renewed their oath. According to the Comte d’Argenson, Charles d’Orléans would have chosen this saint as patron saint of lovers in memory of the “court of love” held at her home by his mother Valentine Visconti, but perhaps, then residing in England, did not did he just use the same folklore sources as Chaucer?

Valentin de Terni, celebrated on February 14, is designated by the Catholic Church as patron saint of lovers with Pope Alexander VI who gives him the title of “patron of lovers” in 1496, which does not prevent the Church from fighting against valentine tradition and it was one of the history of Valentine’s day.

The documents are abundant enough until the middle of the nineteenth century5 to allow us to observe the extension of the custom in the European aristocracy then its diffusion in the working class in the eighteenth century, which explains why the Life of the Saints by Adrien Baillet in 1704, does not yet mention, in the section devoted to Valentine’s Day, the fact that he would be the patron saint of lovers. This custom does not always take place on February 14. During Valentine’s week, the latter receive a letter from their Valentine who offers to accompany them on the day of the feast of the brandons.

History of Valentine’s day in 20th century

Valentine’s Day became a secular holiday in the twentieth century. Several different saints from the early days of Christianity, named Valentine, are in fact the subject of legendary hagiographic vitae. This confusion of origins explains why the religious feast of Saint Valentine was deleted from the Roman liturgical calendar in 1969 by Pope Paul VI9, but was kept in the regional calendars.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Valentine’s Day remains a commercial feast for some, an occasion to celebrate love for others.

Valentine’s Day as a commercial holiday developed in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, with the sale of cards between lovers.

Who are the three Valentine’s Day?

The first valentine would be a Catholic priest named Valentin who decided to secretly marry the lovers. He was discovered and sent to prison until his death.

For some, the martyr Saint Valentine, who was beheaded in 269 in Rome, was confused with another Valentine celebrated on February 14: the bishop of Terni in Umbria. This saint renowned for his gifts as a healer to young girls and young people.

Saint Valentine of Rhetia is mainly celebrated in Germany. He lived in the 5th century and is represented with an epileptic child lying at his feet.

The origins of Valentine’s Day

For many people the history of Valentine’s day is the the feast of love. But what are the origins of this pagan, Catholic, then commercial feast?

Pagan festival

The word pagan is often used to describe anyone who holds religious beliefs that differ from the main world religions.

Valentine’s Day among the Romans
Valentine’s Day would have its origins in a pagan festival celebrated by the Romans: the Lupercalia. On February 15, the priests of Lupercus, the fertility god of ancient Rome, sacrificed goats and got drunk. Once the ritual was over, they roamed the streets, scantily clad, to touch passers-by. History also has it that, during this pagan festival, young women approached priests to be touched. They believed that this small gesture would increase their fertility and facilitate childbirth.

Among the ancient Greeks

The period between mid-January and mid-February was also devoted to love and fertility.

Catholic holiday

It was around 496 that a pope decided that Valentine’s Day would be celebrated on February 14, in order to thwart the Lupercalia among the Romans.

Despite everything, the pagan festival was organized in secret and offered new rituals. On February 14, single women hid around their villages and young men went looking for them. When a man discovered one, he had to marry her within the year. Even married men participated in this race to try to find “the most beautiful girl in the village” and find their pleasure on Valentine’s night.

Valentine’s Day and Middle Ages

A name on the sleeve
It was in the Middle Ages that Valentine’s Day took on all its flavor. At that time, celibacy was celebrated more than love. At the end of a draw, the young men hung the name of their “sweetheart” on their sleeves. If the young woman was in favor of the candidacy, she invited him to a procession held on the first Sunday of Lent.

Birds on February 14
Another legend has it that birds mate from February 14. The latter gave birth to a belief. If a young girl saw a robin on this date, she would marry a sailor. If she observed a sparrow, she would have a happy marriage with a poor man. In return, a goldfinch “ensured” the union with a rich man.


The first Valentine’s card
It seems that Prince Charles of Orleans was the first man to address a Valentine’s Day card, officially at least. Imprisoned in the Tower of London, he sent a poem to his sweetheart, Marie de Clèves, in 1440. He married the latter, who was 14 years old, twenty-one days after his release.

Much too obscene!
It was in the 19th century that anonymous Valentine’s Day greeting cards really became popular. But some shipments were so obscene that some governments even had to ban them.

The mystery of the X
The “X” symbolize kisses, it is known. And we find them in abundance on Valentine’s Day cards. This custom dates back to the origins of Catholicism when the cross, shaped like an “X”, symbolizes sworn faith. Later, those who could not write had to kiss a cross, which was taken as an oath. It is in memory of this practice that the cross became a symbol of the kiss.

And Cupid?
Finally, Cupid, a famous character linked to Valentine’s Day and personified by a young child with a bow and arrow, represents the god of love. Its name comes from the Latin cupido, which means desire. He would be the son of Mars and Venus. If his arrow hits you, you’ll fall in love with the first person you meet. This legend still has its followers, more than 2000 years later.

Photo credit: Pixabay


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