View Full Version : The Origins of St. Valentine’s Day

02-14-2007, 10:25 AM
There is a lot of debate and disagreement among scholars about the origins of Valentine’s Day. We’ll probably never be able to disentangle all of the cultural and religious threads in order to reconstruct a complete and coherent story. The origins of Valentine’s Day lie too far in the past to be sure about everything. Despite this, there are a number of speculations we can make which are reasonably sound.

For one thing, we know that the Romans celebrated a holiday on February 14th to honor Juno Fructifier, Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses, and that on February 15th they celebrated the Feast of Lupercalia in honor of Lupercus, the Roman god who watched over shepherds and their flocks.

Neither of these appear to have much to do with love or romance, but there were a number of customs focused on fertility which were associated with one feast or the other. Although attributions vary depending on the source, they are consistent in their description of the rituals.

In one, men would go to a grotto dedicated to Lupercal, the wolf god, which was located at the foot of Palatine Hill. It was here the Romans believed that the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were suckled by a she-wolf. It was also here that the men would sacrifice a goat, don its skin, and then proceed to run around, hitting women with small whips. These actions were taken in imitation of the god Pan and supposedly a women struck in this way would be guaranteed fertility during the next year.

In another ritual, women would submit their names to a common box and men would each draw one out. These two would be a couple for the duration of the festival (and at times for the entire following year). Both rituals were designed to promote not only fertility, but also life generally.

Our modern festival isn’t called St. Lupercus’ Day, it’s called St. Valentine’s Day after a Christian saint — so where does Christianity come into play? That’s more difficult for historians to decipher. There was more than one person with the name Valentinius who existed during the early years of the church, two or three of whom were martyred.

According to one story, Roman emperor Claudius II imposed a ban on marriages because too many young men were dodging the draft by getting married (only single men had to enter the army). A Christian priest named Valentinus ignored the ban and performed secret marriages. He was caught, of course, which meant that he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. While awaiting execution, young lovers visited him with notes about how much better love is than war — the first “valentines.”

As you might have already guessed, the execution occurred in 269 CE on Februrary 14th, the Roman day dedicated to celebrating love and fertility. After a couple of centuries (in 469, to be precise), Emperor Gelasius declared it a holy day in honor of Valentinus instead of the pagan god Lupercus.

This allowed Christianity to take over some of the celebrations of love and fertility which had perviously occurred in the context of paganism.

Another Valentinus was a priest jailed for helping Christians. During his stay he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and sent her notes signed “from your Valentine.” He was eventually beheaded and buried on the Via Flaminia. Reportedly Pope Julius I built a basilica over his grave. A third and final Valentinius was the bishop of Terni and he was also martyred, with his relics being taken back to Terni.

The pagan celebrations were reworked to fit the martyr theme — after all, early and medieval Christianity did not approve of rituals that encouraged sexuality. Instead of pulling girls’ names from boxes, it is believed that both boys and girls chose the names of martyred saints from a box. It wasn’t until the 14th century that customs returned to celebrations of love and life rather than faith and death.

It was around this time — the Renaissance — that people began to break free of some of the bonds imposed upon them by the Church and move towards a humanistic view of nature, society, and the individual. As a part of this change there was also a move towards more sensual art and literature. There was no shortage of poets and authors who connected the dawning of Spring with love, sexuality, and procreation. A return to more pagan-like celebrations of February 14th is not surprising.

As with so many other holidays that have pagan roots, divination came to play an important role in the development of modern Valentine’s Day. People looked to all sorts of things, primarily in nature, in order to find some sign about who might become their mate for life — their One True Love. There were also, of course, all sorts of things which came to be used to induce love or lust. They existed before, naturally, but as love and sexuality came once again to be more closely associated with February 14th, these foods and drinks came to be associated with it as well.

Today, capitalist commercialism is one of the biggest aspects of Valentine’s Day. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on chocolate, candies, flowers, dinners, hotel rooms, jewelry, and all sorts of other gifts and whatnot used to celebrate February 14th. There is a lot of money to be made from people’s desire to commemorate the date, and even more to be made in convincing people to employ any number of new means to celebrate. Only Christmas and Halloween come close in the way that modern commercialism has transformed and adopted an ancient pagan celebration.

02-14-2007, 01:05 PM
Say, that's one heck of an interesting story.....
Draft dodgers....they had Republicans even back then?
And the twins were, what did they call it back then....suckled, by a she-wolf?
I also like the ideas of the one year marriage, and running around with a whip, a little light s&m, might be fun as long as no blood, nor pain, was involved.
Them romans sure knew how to spice up one's love life...too bad St. Val got in over his head on the festivities.
We had us a St. Val's in the neighborhood, a Polish Catholic Church. When I was a teenager, we crashed all the wedding receptions there. I was a big fan of St. Val.

Gayle in MD
02-14-2007, 02:15 PM
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In another ritual, women would submit their names to a common box and men would each draw one out. These two would be a couple for the duration of the festival (and at times for the entire following year). Both rituals were designed to promote not only fertility, but also life generally.

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Hey, we found ourselves at a party like that one night, but...we left /ccboard/images/graemlins/frown.gif JK /ccboard/images/graemlins/wink.gif

We celebrated our 44th aniversary this week. Here's how we do it these days, for it is true love!

"Honey, don't get me anything, and I won't get you anything...OK?" /ccboard/images/graemlins/laugh.gif

We both hate to shop! But, we do find, ah, some things around the house to give to one another... /ccboard/images/graemlins/blush.gif they're really nice!

02-14-2007, 03:27 PM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote Gayle in MD:</font><hr>

We celebrated our 44th aniversary this week.
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Happy Anniversary! That's a lot of years! And here I thought my thirtieth coming up in June was a big number.

Congratulations Gayle!

Gayle in MD
02-15-2007, 01:00 AM
Thank you...I was lucky to marry such a fine man, and I love to spoil him! /ccboard/images/graemlins/wink.gif

Gayle in Md.

02-15-2007, 08:29 AM
Every year I get forced into going out and blowing $40 to $50 on stupid candy that make you fat and flowers that die in 3 days. Why do I do this? A stupid fold out card is now $5. Its all a rip off. But if you don't come home with the goods, you are in the dog house so bad it ain't funny. I tell my wife I love her every day. So why once a year I have to spend money to say it again. It's all a media con.

Gayle in MD
02-15-2007, 08:40 AM
LOL, you make some very valid points my friend. I don't know how old you are, but I can tell you that after forty four years of marriage, it is great to cherish the daily expressions of love and caring, and get beyond the financial wishes of Madison Avenue. My husband shows his love for me everyday. He has enough on his plate, I like saying, honey, don't worry about a Valentine, or anything, I know you love me. I still serve something special on Valentine's day, and with candles, because I enjoy doing it. But, who can really say they enjoy shopping for others? I hate to shop even for myself!

Ever tried surprising her on Valentines Day by doing some little thing for her around the house? Maybe something you've been putting off? We really don't have to spend money to show that we care, or buy into the commercial aspects of television advertising. /ccboard/images/graemlins/wink.gif

Gayle in Md.