The History of St. Valentine’s Day: Martyred Catholic Priest the Real Meaning of the Holiday

Valentine’s Day, though now associated with expensive gifts, roses and sweet cards for the romantically involved and bitter diatribes against the customs for the single people, got its start from a surprising, and surprisingly gruesome, origin. The name comes from a Roman Catholic priest, St. Valentine, although three Valentines figure into history, according to the History Channel Web site.The Most Likely Valentine
Valentine was a priest who served in Rome during the Emperor Claudius II’s short but tumultuous reign. The emperor, who reigned from 268 to 270 A.D., discovered that single men made better soldiers, and so set out to increase his army through forbidding young men to marry. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret until Claudius found out what was happening and imprisoned the priest. He was sentenced to death for disobeying the emperor.
According to the Hurriyet Daily News, while in prison Valentine struck up a friendship with a young girl, possibly the jailer’s daughter. Sources don’t agree on if the two were in love, but all the stories say Valentine wrote the girl a note on Feb. 14, 269 A.D., the day he was to be beaten and beheaded, and signed it “From your Valentine.” Hence the introduction of sending love letters with the now-traditional close.
Christianity Meets Roman Empire: Lupercalia
The non-Christian Roman Empire already had a romance-related celebration in mid-February: Lupercalia. This holiday required that all of the houses be purified, first by sweeping and then with a sprinkling of salt and spelt, a type of wheat. This prepared the ancients for the celebration in honor of Faunus, the god of agriculture, and Romulus and Remus, the twin gods of Rome, according to the History Channel.
The Luperci, a group of priests, first gathered at the cave where the twin infants were raised by a wolf; they then sacrificed a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. Boys sliced the goat hide into strips, dipped them in blood, and lightly hit women and fields with them, which was thought to indicate fertility in the year to come.
The raciest tradition came at the end of the day, when the Roman women put their name in an urn and the bachelors drew names out; the woman whose name he drew became his partner for the year. Sometimes these ended in marriage, sometimes not. According to Hurriyet, men and women would draw each other’s names and wear each other’s names on their sleeves. Other legends hold that the lottery picked partners for the Lupercalia or festival or that the two became sexual partners, but not yet married.
Christianity Wins
The early Christian church, in an effort to rid Rome of the pagan celebration, introduced St. Valentine’s Day to coincide with Lupercalia and eventually edge it out, which it has successfully done, as evidenced by the non-existence of the lottery. Sending valentines has been done since the 14th century; Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent a love note to his wife while he was imprisoned. According to Hurriyet, that custom became part of modern Valentine tradition in the 17th century and was commercialized by American Esther A. Howland in the 1840s.
So it started out innocently enough, intending neither to bankrupt involved men nor depress single women. Buy yourself some chocolate and enjoy the holiday.

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