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The history behind Valentine’s Day


couple love romance man woman date
The holiday celebrating St. Valentine (pictured) has a
gritty origin story.

Versta/Shutterstock

• Valentine’s Day is the time of year to show your love
by dropping money on flowers and
chocolates
or grouse about how cheesy and
consumerist the holiday is
.

• Valentine’s Day’s religious origins have taken a
backseat.

• There were multiple St. Valentines throughout history,
and the feast day first became associated with love in the Middle
Ages.


How have we reached the point where
the US is set to spend $19.6 billion on Valentine’s Day
?

It all goes back to a mysterious, third century saint who
suffered a brutal fate.

St. Valentine of Terni was martyred in 269 C.E. (or somewhere
around then — it kind
of depends on what martyrology you’re reading
). According to
legend, the Roman physician and priest was beaten, stoned, and
beheaded for the crimes of marrying Christian couples … and
possibly attempting to convert Emperor Claudius II.

Thanks to the marital angle of his story, Valentine became the
patron saint of love, young people, and marriages (and also
of plague, epilepsy, and beekeepers
).

His February 14 feast day was established by Pope Gelasius I in
496 C.E. There’s disagreement amongst historians about whether
the holiday was meant to replace the pagan fertility festival
Lupercalia.

Either way, as time went on, more romantic connotations came to
be associated with the saint. One legend has Valentine
befriending (or falling in love with) the blind daughter of a
judge (or his jailer — again, it depends). He supposedly wrote
her secret letters signed “from your Valentine” and then restored
her sight from beyond the grave.


St. Valentine
St. Valentine of Terni was
martyred in 269 C.E


Wikimedia
Commons



As the cult of courtly love spread across Europe in the Middle
Ages, an even more romantic light was cast upon mid-February.
As
the Folklore Society notes
, Geoffrey Chaucer mentions
Valentine’s Day and describes February as the time “when every
fowl cometh there to chose his mate” (although
the blog Got Medieval
asserts that the poet didn’t invent
Valentine’s Day and it was already likely associated with love by
the time he referenced it).

So, we know how Valentine’s Day came to be seen as the most
romantic day of the year. However, the truth is, we don’t know
much about St. Valentine himself. There are eleven
Valentines commemorated by the Catholic Church
, and there
were at least two other St. Valentines who lived around the time
of St. Valentine of Terni. Because his origins are so obscure,

he was actually removed from the General Roman Calendar by the
Roman Catholic Church in 1969
(but he’s still technically
considered a saint).

So, don’t feel bad if you have a crummy Valentine’s Day. It
(hopefully) won’t be worse than getting killed, confused with
other people, and kicked off the general liturgical calendar —
which is what actually happened to the real St. Valentine.


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