History of Valentine’s Day

Origins of Valentine’s Day: A Pagan Festival in February

While some think that Valentine’s Day is observed in the middle of February to mark the anniversary of Valentine’s passing or burial, which most likely took place around the year 270, others assert that the Christian church may have chosen to do so in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan festival of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility festival honoring the Roman founding fathers Romulus and Remus as well as Faunus, the god of agriculture, and was observed on the ides of February, or February 15.

The Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would assemble at a holy cave where it was said that a she-wolf, or lupa, cared for the newborns Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, to kick off the celebration. For fertility and cleansing, the priests would sacrifice a goat and a dog, respectively. The goat’s skin would then be torn into strips, dipped in the blood sacrifice, and carried through the streets to be gently slapped against both ladies and crop fields. Roman women were supposed to become more fruitful the next year, therefore they were not at all afraid when the hides were touched. Legend has it that all the city’s young women would place their names in a large urn later in the day. Each bachelor in the city would select a name and be partnered for the year with his preferred woman. Most of these encounters resulted in marriage.

Valentine’s Day: A Day of Romance and Love

History of Valentine’s Day

Although Lupercalia survived the early growth of Christianity, it was forbidden at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 St. Valentine’s Day because it was seen to be “un-Christian.” But it wasn’t until until later that the day was unmistakably linked to love. The concept that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance in the middle of February was strengthened throughout the Middle Ages by the widespread belief in France and England that February 14 marked the start of the bird breeding season. In his poem “Parliament of Foules,” written in 1375, the English author Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to refer to St. Valentine’s Day as a day of love celebration. He wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to pick his spouse.”

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Although written Valentine’s did not first emerge until about 1400, Valentine greetings have been popular since the Middle Ages. Charles, Duke of Orleans, who had been captured at the Battle of Agincourt, composed a sonnet to his wife when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, making it the earliest recorded Valentine still in existence today. (The greeting is currently a part of the British Library’s manuscript collection in London, England.) Many years later, it’s said that King Henry V commissioned John Lydgate, a writer, to write Catherine of Valois a Valentine’s card.

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