Saint Valentine and the History of Valentine’s Day

Who was Saint Valentine? When did Valentine’s Day start? And how did hearts, flowers, love letters and chocolate candies get associated with this holiday? Let’s take a closer look at Saint Valentine and the history of Valentine’s Day to answer these questions.

Saint Valentine and the history of Valentine's Day

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Saint Valentine

Early church records show that two Christian men, named Valentine, were beheaded on February 14, 269. Some scholars suggest that it was really the same man and that records  got mixed up a bit. What we do know is that there was a priest in Rome named Valentine during this time. His bones are buried under a church in Rome that was built in his honor in 350.

Several stories exist about Saint Valentine. One story says that Emperor Claudius II forbade soldiers to marry but Valentine secretly married the young couples anyway. Another story says that Saint Valentine was imprisoned for refusing to worship pagan gods. While in prison, he befriended his jailer who had a blind daughter. It is said that Valentine healed the jailer’s daughter and before being executed, wrote her a note and signed it “Your Valentine”.

Lupercalia

During this time, pagans were celebrating Lupercalia on February 15.  Lupercalia was a Roman festival meant to ward off evil spirits and bring fertility. Some sources say that later celebrations of Lupercalia included young men and women drawing names from a box to determine their partner. What we do know is that in 495, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 to be Saint Valentine’s Day perhaps in an effort to replace the pagan holiday of Lupercalia.

Valentine’s Day Traditions

Cupid was the Roman god of love and was believed to shoot arrows to make a person fall in love.

During the Middle Ages, the Norman French language had a word for lover that sounded very similar to valentine. Perhaps this made people think St. Valentine was the saint of love.

In 1415, a French duke was captured during a battle and was said to have sent a love letter to his wife on Valentine’s day.

In the 1700’s and 1800’s, stores sold books that included verses to copy when writing a valentine to a loved one.

In 1847, Esther A. Howland became one of the first people to manufacture Valentine’s Day cards in the United States.

It’s hard to pinpoint where each Valentine’s day tradition came from. Many traditions are mere marketing tools for manufacturers while other modern traditions come from a mixture of older traditions.  What we do know is that a Christian named Valentine was beheaded on Februrary 14 for his faith in Jesus. If anything, we should remember the love God has for us this Valentine’s Day.

for god so loved the world

Resources for Learning More

You can learn more about Saint Valentine while reading this story filled with beautiful mosaic pictures. We found it at our local library or you can purchase it here.

For more information about the history of Valentine’s Day check out this book that we found at our local library (but can also be purchased here.)

You might also enjoy watching this short video on St. Valentine.

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