When you hear the word ‘Valentine,’ perhaps images of hearts, roses, and poetic cards are brought to mind, or maybe your spirit is lifted with the feelings of love and romance, awash in hues of red and pink. Whatever your visions of ‘Valentine,’ or ‘Valentine’s Day’ might be, they are probably conjured simultaneously with the mere utterance of the word. However Valentine’s Day, as the fully formed concept and vision we know today, was not established as such at it’s inception. It has evolved as the result of many different historical and cultural contributions, becoming a holiday where love has not only been given a voice, but we are actively encouraged to express and revel in it.
In a world that has long shied away from openly declaring and displaying love, Valentine’s Day has served in giving the confines of society a respite. It has granted romantics everywhere freedom to express love, and thanks to it’s rich history, it’s myriad of traditions, both new and old, gives any person the means to access their ‘inner romantic,’ even if just for one day.
Philosophy and the Heart
‘Valentine’s Day,’ as we know it, is not the result of just one person or one tradition, it is an amalgamation of love’s attempts to be heard through the ages. The whisperings of love begin as far back as the Ancient Philosophers in Greece, who believed that the heart was the origin of all emotions and feelings. Though with advances of science and technology, we know there is more to it than that, the Philosophers recognized that strong emotion, such as love, had a physiological effect, and the heart was at the center of it all, establishing it as love’s universal symbol.
From Rome With Love
The setting for Valentine’s Day, however, did not begin to take shape until the Third to Fourth Century B.C., with the celebration of ‘Lupercalia,’ which took place on February 14 th in Ancient Rome to honor the Roman Goddess of Women and Marriage, ‘Juno’ or ‘Lupa’ (the she-wolf). During this festival of Fertility and Purification, unmarried women inscribed their names on love notes, called ‘billets,’ that were drawn at random by unmarried men, who would then pursue the author of the billet and pair off in a celebration of sexual gratification, that not uncommonly ended in marriage.
Variations of this pagan custom survived and evolved over time, but always in association with February 14 th , Valentine’s Day. For instance, on this date in Medieval Great Britain, names of English maidens were drawn by eligible bachelors and in declaration of his sweetheart, the man wore, or pinned, the lady’s name to his sleeve. Hence, giving way to the expression, “To wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve.” Today, ‘love notes,’ or Valentine’s Day cards have replaced the lottery draw for partners and though cards are not usually sent at random, the sender still inscribes their name upon the card.
Love Has a Name
It wasn’t until February 14, 269 A.D., that the namesake of the holiday came to light. Saint Valentine, of which the Catholic Church acknowledges there was more than one, was martyred on February 14, 269 A.D., by Emperor Claudius II, after refusing to renounce his faith. This particular St. Valentine, a holy priest, was arrested and imprisoned for aiding Christians, persecuted under Roman rule, and marrying Christian couples, after marriage had been banned by the Emperor. Stories passed down through the ages tell of the eve of St. Valentine’s execution, when he penned a farewell letter to the jailer’s daughter whom, according to some accounts, he restored sight to, and signed the letter “From Your Valentine.”
In 469 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14 th the Feast Day of St. Valentine. He simultaneously outlawed the very open lovemaking festival of Lupercalia, suggesting that instead of drawing maidens’ names, young people draw the names of saints who they could strive to emulate throughout the following year. Thus, the Roman Goddess, Juno, was replaced by St. Valentine, who became the patron saint of love, young people, and happy marriages, amongst other things.
Although the stage had been set for modern day Valentine’s Day celebrations, the link between St. Valentine and romantic gestures of love was not firmly established until the year 1382, when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the poem, “Parlement of Foules,” in honor of the wedding between King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. In it he writes: ” For this was on seynt Valentynes day, Whan every foul comyth ther to chese his make.” Here, Chaucer makes reference to the belief in France and England that on February 14 th birds began to choose their mates.
With Chaucer creating this connection in a very public form, the art of writing Valentines began. In fact, the first written Valentine, formerly known as ‘poetical or amorous addresses,’ is credited to Charles, Duke of Orleans in 1415. While the Duke was imprisoned in the Tower of London, following the Battle of Agincourt, he wrote romantic verses for his wife which can still be seen in the British Museum by those who wish to be inspired by the beauty of a love forever memorialized in words . By the 1500’s paper written Valentines became the love expression of choice across Europe, and in 1537 King Henry VIII proclaimed by Royal Charter that all of England would celebrate February 14 th as St. Valentines Day.
Roses are Red
With Valentine’s Day firmly established as a time of romantic freedom, expressions of love became grander and more creative, while at the same time the language of love became more universal and accessible, with some forms of expression needing no words at all. Such is the case with the Persian, poetical art referred to as the ‘language of flowers,’ in which every flower had a special meaning. Charles II of Sweden introduced this language to Europe early in the eighteenth century, creating demand for increased publications of floral lexicons, which provided translation for this new form of touching communication. The red rose, most associated with Valentine’s Day, was said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and became a universal representative of romance.
Happy Valentine’s Day
The onset of commercially produced Valentines in the nineteenth century added another means of communication that could be accessed by the masses. In 1840, Esther Howland was the first to produce Valentines in America, selling $5,000 in cards during her first year in business, reflecting the needs and wants of a public, who wanted to express their love but previously hadn’t the means or ability. Sociologists have theorized that printed cards became more popular over the letter, particularly in Great Britain, because they provided a way for people to express their feelings, which was otherwise considered unfashionable at the time.
Now, whether you choose to give your love voice through bouquets of flowers, poetic prose, or gestures from the heart, the point is, Valentine’s Day, has and always will be a recognized holiday when the power of love can be truly honored as an emotion and desire that transcends time.
Catholic Online: St. Valentine
Saint Valentine’s Day
St Valentine’s Day: History of St Valentine’s Day
History.Com: 6 Surprising Facts About St Valentine
How Stuff Works: How Valentine’s Day Works
The Online Medieval and Classical Library: The Parliament of Fowles by Geoffrey Chaucer