Did you know… St. Valentine?

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Origin of Valentine’s day

The origins of Valentine’s Day date back to Marcus Aurelius Claudius “Gothicus” (10 May 214 – January/April 270), also known as Claudius II, who was Roman emperor from 268 to 270. Claudius wasn’t interested in romance – instead, he wanted to make his army more efficient and ferocious. To achieve that end, he banned marriage for soldiers not already married.

Claudius II

The Catholic church recognizes two other possible people as St. Valentine, but we’ll go with this one.

Valentinus was a Catholic priest. He thought Claudius’s decree was cruel and continued to perform marriages for soldiers in secret. Claudius discovered the defiant priest and had him beheaded. The Valentine legends are uncertain but were widely published and believed so that by medieval times St. Valentine was one of the more popular saints.

The celebration in February may have been designed to overlay a pagan holiday, Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god Faunus, god of agriculture, or the Greek god Pan. It was also associated with the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The Lupercalia festival began with a gathering at a cave, supposedly where their wolf mother nursed Romulus and Remus. A goat was sacrificed, and then priests went about touching women with blood and goat hide, which was supposed to enhance their fertility in the coming year. At the end of the impromptu parade, all the young unmarried women would place their names on slips of paper in a large urn. The young men would draw out the names, and the couple would be paired for a year, a sort of engagement, which often ended in marriage.

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. Later still, February 14 was regarded as the beginning of the mating season for some birds in England and France, and Chaucer wrote “Parliament of Foules” in 1375, recording Valentine’s day as a romantic celebration. Written valentines didn’t premiere until 1415, when Charles, Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife Bonne of Armagnac following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.

Charles, Duke of Orleans

An accomplished poet, his was regarded as the first valentine. One of his translated poems begins


Is she not passing fair,

She whom I love so well ?

On earth, in sea, or air, Where may her equal dwell ?

Oh! tell me, ye who dare To brave her beauty’s spell,

Is she not passing fair,

She whom I love so well ?

Charles, Duke of Orleans

Unfortunately, Bonne did not survive until he was released from prison. The actual poem he sent her is now in the British Library in London, and reads:

My very gentle Valentine,

Since for me, you were born too soon,

And I for you was born too late.

God forgives him who has estranged

Me from you for the whole year.

I am already sick of love,

My very gentle Valentine.

By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers to exchange notes on Valentine’s Day, and printed cards became more common in the 1800s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America.

Today, 145 million cards are sent each year, more than Christmas cards.

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