The History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has long been celebrated as a day of love and you know what I love? History! So I thought why not do a little history post today!

Where does Valentine’s Day even come from? That is a very good question and it is somewhat interesting topic. I fell down quite the rabbit hole researching the ins-and-outs of this holiday. I found myself reading about Lupercalia, a pagan festival some historians have tried to link to Valentine’s Day. I absolutely love ancient history so I really got sucked into it. I thought about including it here but since the two aren’t really linked other than the festival being celebrated from February 13th to the 15th, I left it out.  The day itself began with Saint Valentine and evolved from there into a romantic holiday. I started with the history behind the saint/saints, the legends that were told, and finally how things flipped from religious to romantic.

V0016605 Saint Valentine blessing an epileptic. Coloured etching.

There are 11 Saint Valentines but not all of them are associated with Saint Valentine’s Day. The two Valentines being honored on February 14th are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni who were both killed on that day. These men were killed because they were Christians which made them martyrs. Valentine of Rome was a priest who was imprisoned, tortured and killed in 269 A.D.. His relics, usually body parts, became part of an important pilgrimage for Christians and his flower-wreathed skull is still on display at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Valentine of Terni was a bishop of Terni, then Intermna, who was imprisoned, tortured and killed sometime between 269 A.D. and 273 A.D.. Some believe the two might be the same person since the date surrounding Valentine of Terni is muddled and both died quite similarly and on the same day and month. There is also said to be a third Valentine who was killed in Africa along with a large group of companions but not much is known about him other than the fact he was also killed around February 14th.


Now the legends behind Saint Valentine are much more interesting to read about. The first legend says that Saint Valentine was a priest in Rome who illegally performed marriage ceremonies for young couples during the 3rd century. Emperor Claudius II had decided that young single men made better soldiers if they didn’t have a family to worry about and therefore made it illegal for them to marry. Valentine was caught and killed. The other legend is that Saint Valentine helped Christian’s escape persecution in Roman prisons. The transition from the old gods to a single god was a tumultuous situation in Ancient Rome and things went back and forth quite a lot. Christians would find themselves locked up and tortured for their beliefs and vice versa. Again he was caught and killed. Finally the most romantic legend was that Saint Valentine fell in love with the jailers daughter after being imprisoned and sent her the first ever Valentine. No matter the legend, Valentine is always presented as a romantic figure and eventually became one of the most popular saints in history.

Valentine 1

Valentine’s Day wasn’t seen as a romantic holiday until the 14th Century when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote Parlement of Foules. The work focuses on birds picking their mates for spring and mentions it taking place on Saint Valentine’s Day. People took that romantic notion of the day and ran with it. The oldest known example of a Valentine greeting card still around today is from 1415 and was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife after he was captured at the Battle of Agincourt. It became a popular holiday in the 17th century and it was common for friends and lovers to share greetings. In America in the 1840’s, Esther Howland introduced the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day card and the industry blew up. It is estimated that on Valentine’s Day over 1 billion cards are sent. In 1868, Cadbury created the signature Valentine’s Day chocolate box and during the second half of the 20th century all types of Valentine’s Day gifts, including jewelry, became popular.

I hope everyone enjoyed this quick history lesson on Valentine’s Day. It seems like it’s just a day for couples to be all gross and mushy but it is a day for all to celebrate any kind of love! Tell your friends you love them! Tell your pets you love them! And most importantly tell yourself!


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