Monday, February 12, 2018
The origins of St Valentine's Day
There was almost certainly more than one Christian martyr by the name Valentine and all were beatified. Estimates vary between three and nineteen with many of their biographies and cults sharing a number of common elements. Experts believe two vie as ‘the’ Saint Valentine celebrated on 14 February. One was a bishop from the central Italian city of Terni and the other a holy priest in Rome.
The earliest martyrology describes the bishop from Terni who went to Rome to heal a crippled boy. When he refused to worship idols he was arrested by the prefect Placidus and eventually decapitated. Scholars generally agreed that the Roman Valentine was likely to be the real origin of the day’s festival.
According to Lasance, St. Valentine was a holy priest in Rome who assisted martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II. Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II (210 – 270) Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel experienced difficulty getting soldiers to join his military leagues and was suspicious young roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. The emperor cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Like other Christian priests, Valentine secretly married couples, and for this he was condemned to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, about the year 270. This Valentine was a priest and probably a physician and whilst in prison he restored the sight to his jailer’s daughter and was instrumental in converting her father to Christianity. A final gesture of affection for the jailor’s daughter was shown when Valentine left a farewell note signed it "From Your Valentine".
Although there is evidence both Valentines enjoyed cult status with basilicas built in their memory and their relics reported to be found as far afield as Dublin and Glasgow it was Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. who set aside February 14th to honour St. Valentine.
There are several theories about the origin of Valentine's Day. Romans had a mid-February custom to honor Februata Juno a sex and fertility goddess. It was called Festival of Lupercalcia. Boys and girls were traditionally brought up apart but on the 14th February their names were written on paper and put into jars. Young men chose a partner by drawing out the slip of paper with the girl's name. They would stay together for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry. To suppress the pagan association, Christians may have substituted St Valentine as the focus for the day. To disassociate with the past religions many Christians are thought to replace this old cult with one that was identifiably Christian, resulting in a feast with obvious ties to the celebration of love. In the Northern Hemisphere birds begin to pair by February and it was established in folklore the 14th February was critical for partnership in medieval France lovers would express their feelings on St Valentine’s Day.
The earliest Valentine was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife in 1415, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. By 1477 the English celebrated the feast of Valentine. The day started with men and women writing love letters to their Valentine. Literacy was poor so it may have been a love tokens were exchanged instead. The old Roman of selecting a partner for the day was upheld in the Middle Ages, and young men and women wore their partner’s name on their sleeves for one week. To wear your heart on your sleeve now means that it is easy for other people to know how you are feeling. In Wales wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts. Hearts, keys and keyholes were favourite decorations on the spoons. The decoration meant, "You unlock my heart!" The date was also marked by sending poems and simple gifts such as flowers and there was often a social gathering or a ball.
The first Valentine’s card was sent in North America by spinster, Esther Howland. And by the 1800s commercial cards were introduced. And the rest is as they say is history.
Lasance F X 1924 The new missal for everyday Benziger Bros: NY.