Valentine’s Day is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the ones we love by showering them with candy, flowers, fancy dinners, and gifts designed to prove how much we love our significant others. Some think Valentine’s was created by big businesses like Hallmark in order to make a pretty penny off American consumers. In reality, this day of love and passion has darker origins than most people realize, with death, sacrificial offerings, and treachery at the forefront of Valentine’s Day’s inception.
The history of Valentine’s Day and its patron saint is shrouded in mystery. With three different saints named Valentine, it’s hard to know what to believe. Our favorite story is the legend of the priest, Valentine, who served Emperor Claudius II in third century Rome. Emperor Claudius outlawed marriage for young men when he decided single men make better soldiers. Valentine defied the unjust decree and performed marriage ceremonies in secret for young lovers. When his actions were discovered, he was put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been imprisoned and killed for helping Christians escape Roman prisons. While imprisoned, he sent the first “Valentine” after becoming smitten with the jailor’s daughter. Before his death, it is said that he signed his final letter with the phrase we all connect with sending a love letter: “From your Valentine.”
The most likely of origins is the darkest of all. It all starts with the pagan celebration Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the roman god of agriculture, as well as the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. This festival was thought to bring fertility not only to the women of Rome, but to animals and crops as well. The festival began in the cave where a she-wolf was said to have cared for Romulus and Remus. Roman priests would gather at the sacred cave and sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification.
They would then strip the goat’s hide in narrow pieces, dip it in the sacrificial blood and take to the streets. Priests then gently slapped women and crops with the goat hide. Roman women welcomed the hide’s touch, believing the contact would make them more fertile in coming years. Later in the day during Lupercalia, young city women would place their names in a big urn and young bachelors would take turns picking names from the urn, in order to find their love match. These matches would often end in marriage.
Lupercalia would eventually be deemed “un-Christian” at the end of the 5th century by Pope Gelasius who declared February 14th Valentine’s Day in honor of St. Valentine. It didn’t take long for the day to be forever linked with love. As Christianity spread, so did Valentine’s Day.
Though the stories of Saint Valentine can get murky, all the legends emphasize his allure as a heroic champion for love. Celebrate your friends and family by being your own champion for love. This Valentine’s Day, show the one you love how much they mean to you, whether it’s a date night or a special gift.