February 14th. It’s a day that most women cherish as a time when tasty chocolates, roses, and love comes their way. All thanks to the harbinger of pure romance himself, but who is Saint Valentine and where did he come from?
Well, not exactly. Yes, the commercialized holiday goes on every year and dinners-for-two drain men’s wallets everywhere. The wonderful Saint valentine didn’t bring it about as many people may think. The holiday has a very dark history, one filled with torture, and decapitation, hardly the stuff of pure romance.
The history of the love-centered holiday and the alleged saint behind the holiday is riddled with partial facts. Matter of fact, very thin evidence, loads of pure speculation, guesswork, and without a doubt, outright fiction and made-up events. However, with all that being said, it makes for one intriguing history lesson. For those who want to know just how execution by decapitation led to Valentine’s Day, here you go.
The most interesting aspect of the entire Saint Valentine puzzle is that most historians believe that there was not just one individual named Saint Valentine. Some believe that two or more, maybe even up to fifty people may have had this coveted title. Monks spent nearly three centuries retrieving information from manuscripts about the lives of saints around the world.
Nearly 68 volumes became transcribed into the “Acta Sanctorum” or, more easily understood, the Lives of the Saints. These became arranged according to Saint’s Feast Day. One of them was thought to be a Roman priest who performed weddings in secrecy during the third century. He converted his captor’s household to Christianity, and he was soon tortured and decapitated.
The second saint, by historical accounts, was also beheaded again, performing secret weddings, and again on February 14th. It’s unknown if these two stories and both men were distinctly different or an amalgamation of both combined. Furthermore, the name Valentine was prevalent in Roman times (think Michael, John, or Bill or today), and there were at least fifty or more stories of saints having that particular name, which makes finding facts among loads of “stories” a monumental task.
To some scholars, the creation of Valentine’s Day may have occurred because of a cover-up from the Christians during the Pagan times of ancient Rome. The Romans celebrated Lupercalia in February. During this event, half-naked males would run throughout the city wearing only thongs cut from the skins of freshly killed goats. Pregnant women then thought this event would bring them, healthy babies.
The ritual evolved into a carnival flowing through the city’s streets. The festivities became both unruly and rowdy, and even the current Pope, Gelasius, denounced the entire event. This denouncement led to Valentine’s Day replacing the Lupercaliar celebration. No valid evidence has been found to substantiate this possible beginning to the holiday we know today.
There are a few theories about how torture and decapitation morphed into a holiday based on love and romance. The most widely accepted idea is that Geoffrey Chaucer indirectly invented the holiday in the late 1300s. Chaucer was a medieval poet who had a habit of writing his fictitious characters within historical events, and he told others that they were “true” stories.
In his poem, “Parliament of Foules,” Chaucer decreed that the centuries-old feast of Saint Valentinus was related to birds’ mating. This was odd, yet in Chaucer’s time, English birds did indeed pair in February to mate, hence the connection to the date of February 14th, the modern-day Valentine’s Day. The specific line within the poem, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day. Whan every bird cometh there to chese his make.”, could have very well been the catalyst that started the love-centric holiday we celebrate today.
In 1415, the French Duke of Orléans wrote to his wife that he was lovesick and, in his note, called her his “very gentle Valentine.” Shakespeare himself mentioned the word ‘Valentine’ in his play Ophelia in which the title character considered herself Hamlet’s Valentine. From there, as the centuries passed, more and more men and women began writing romantic poems and notes to their loves. Today, card companies took over the task and made spilling one’s feelings to another easy.
Looking back on the history of most holidays, you may not like what you find. From the pagan rituals and witch practices of Halloween to the true story of the Nutcracker and singing Carolers who broke down doors looking for food surrounding the Christmas holiday, what we celebrate today is far different from most holiday origins. Valentine’s day is no different.
However, what was in the past, will stay in the past. Although the idea of a romantic Saint Valentine spreading love throughout the lands didn’t happen, it doesn’t make your candlelight dinner, chocolate hearts, or a large bouquet any less meaningful when February 14th comes around.
For even more weird history, be sure to check out this story on SKILLSET!