14th February is Valentine’s Day, but how did it all start?
There was more than one, but this is my favourite story about Saint Valentine
In 269 AD, single Roman men were drafted into the Roman army so many men got married in order to dodge the draft. As a result Emperor Claudius II of Rome forbad Roman men to get engaged or marry. Claudius also ordered all Romans to worship the state’s religious icons, and outlawed Christianity. But a Christian priest, Valentinus continued to practise his Christian beliefs and he secretly married couples.
As Valentinus was famous for his medical and spiritual healing abilities, a jailer for the Emperor of Rome asked Valentinus to help restore his young daughter, Julia’s sight. Valentinus agreed to try to help but told the father it would be difficult as the little girl had been blind since birth. He gave Julia an ointment for her eyes and she came to visit him on a regular basis. Valentinus also gave Julia some lessons and taught her about the history of Rome, about nature, maths and about God. The little girl’s faith in God increased and she prayed she would be able to see.
Valentinus was caught marrying couples and when the Roman soldiers came to arrest him there was nothing the jailer could do to help him, Valentine was jailed and condemned to death. On the eve of his death Valentinus wrote a note to Julia and gave it to the jailer to give to his daughter. The next day, 14th February 269 AD, Valentinus was beaten to death with clubs and his head was cut off.
When the jailer went home he gave the note to his daughter. Inside the note was a yellow crocus, the message said ‘From Your Valentine’ and the yellow crocus was the first thing the little girl saw for the first time as her eyesight had been restored. The crocus is often referred to as St. Valentine's Flower.
Although Valentine was martyred in 269 AD, his feast-day wasn’t announced until 496 AD, when Pope Gelasius I named February 14th as Saint Valentine’s Day, to replace the pagan god Lupercus’ feast of 13-15th February, ‘Lupercalia’, for health and fertility; also celebrated was Juno, the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses, Goddess of women and marriage, on the 14th February names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed in a jar, each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar. Each couple would then be paired for the feast on the 15th February, sometimes the partnership would last all year, some falling in love and eventually marrying. Creating St. Valentine’s Day allowed Christianity to take control of the celebrations of love and fertility. Valentine’s Day became the day that lovers sent messages of their endearing love to each other and St Valentine became known as the patron saint of lovers, couples and marriages.
It is also believed that the 14th February was a good fit for St. Valentine’s Day as being half way through the second month of the calendar year when the birds began to pair. Noted in Chaucer's "Parliament of Foules":
‘For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s Day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate’
Also to note, in Dame Elizabeth Brews' "Paston Letters," writing to a suitor about her daughter:
‘And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine’s Day and
Every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come
On Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then,
I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray
that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.’
Part 2 in our series on 'The Story of St. Valentine's Day': The Link Between St. Valentine and Ireland