St Valentine's Day

by Michael Ford last modified 11 Feb, 2020 03:56 PM

This Friday we shall be celebrating love, but why? And who is St Valentine?

St Valentine's Day

Original photo courtesy Pexels

The first Valentine's day was on Febuary 14th 496, when Pope Gelasius I recast the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia as a Christian feast day in honour of the saint.

But which St Valentine this early pope intended to honor remains a mystery.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were at least THREE early Christian saints by that name.

One was a priest in Rome, another a bishop in Terni, and of a third St Valentine almost nothing is known except that he met his end in Africa. Rather astonishingly, all 3 Valentines were said to have been martyred on February 14th.

Most scholars believe that the St Valentine of the holiday was a priest who attracted the disfavor of Roman emperor Claudius II around 270. At this stage, the factual ends and the mythic begins.

According to one legend, Claudius II had prohibited marriage for young men, claiming that bachelors made better soldiers (although there is no record of the alleged ban). Valentine continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies but was eventually apprehended by the Romans and put to death.

Another legend has it that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter signed "from your Valentine." Probably the most plausible story surrounding St Valentine is one not focused on eros (passionate love) but on agapeo (love of God): he was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion.

Over the centuries, the holiday evolved and, by the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging handmade cards on Valentine's Day had become common in England and today, according to the Greeting Card Association, 25% of all cards sent each year are valentines.

However, the official religious associations with Valentine's Day officially ended in 1969 as the Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar, removing the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable. St Valentine was one of the casualties.

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