Tomorrow, February 14th is Valentine’s Day and I wanted to share the legend with you before the big day arrives!
In the days of ancient Rome, the fourteenth-day of February was a pagan holiday that honored Juno. Juno was the queen of the Roman gods as well as the goddess of women and marriage. The next day, the fifteenth was the first day of the festival of Lupercalia. This festival honored Juno and Pan who were two Roman gods. Fertility rituals were held on this day. On the night before the festival started, it was customary for the names of the Roman girls to be written on slips of paper. These slips were then placed in a container and then each boy drew the name of the girl who he would be coupled with for the entire Lupercalia festival.
Rome was under the authority of Emperor Claudius the Second, and he was a vicious warrior, not to mention the fact that he was insane. His armies lacked the sufficient number of soldiers it needed, and Claudius could not figure out why more young men didn’t want to go to battle. Finally, he determined that the young men didn’t want to leave their wives, families, and girlfriends. In order to remedy this, the Emperor instituted a new law and canceled all of the marriages and engagements in Rome.
In the meantime, there lived a priest in Rome by the name of Valentine. He did not believe in the Emperor’s new law, and he refused to abide by it. He continued to perform wedding ceremonies in secret. He lived in constant fear that he would be caught by Emperor Claudius’s soldiers, but he persisted in doing what he knew was right. Finally, the day did come when Bishop Valentine was caught uniting a man and a woman in the bonds of holy matrimony. The soldiers dragged him to stand before Emperor Claudius’s throne. The Emperor condemned the Bishop to be put to death for his violation of the law.
While the priest was imprisoned, waiting for his execution, many young couples threw notes of thanks along with flowers and other gifts into the window of his cell. Among these young people who admired the priest for doing the right thing was the prison guard’s own daughter. Her father allowed her to visit Bishop Valentine in his cell. During these visits, the two would talk and laugh and share each other’s thoughts. Finally, the day arrived when Bishop Valentine was scheduled to die. It was the fourteenth of February in the year 270 A. D. While he was waiting for the soldiers to come and drag his away, Bishop Valentine composed a note to the girl telling her that he loved her. He signed it simply, “From Your Valentine.”
Finally, in the year 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius did away with the pagan festival of Lupercalia, citing that it was pagan and immoral. He then chose Bishop Valentine as the patron saint of lovers, who would be honored at the new festival on the fourteenth of every February.
Over the years, Valentine’s Day has evolved into a holiday when gifts, cards, flowers, and candy are given to the ones we love or would like to start a relationship with. And it is all because of a brave, righteous man named Valentine.
While the above legend depicts Valentine as all love, Lisa Bitel, historian of Christianity, tells us that it all just a legend. Bitel wrote, “…I can tell you that at the root of our modern holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love.” In her article “The Gory Origins of Valentine’s Day,” Bitel stated, “Valentine’s Day, in fact, originated as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So, how did we get from beheading to betrothing on Valentine’s Day?”
To find out the answer read Bitel’s article here.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Everyone!