While millions across the globe exchange vows and token of love on Valentine’s Day, little goes unaware of the fact that behind all the ‘love’ was a man, a priest who placed himself on the stake to uphold the message of modest love. The proliferation of modern, romantic love by the gifting of flowers, chocolates, gifts on Valentine’s Day is rather ‘constructed’, a practice which sprang, but, not from the ‘intended’.
Valentine’s Day is actually named after St. Valentine, who will later become the patron saint of lovers. A Roman Catholic priest, St. Valentine was supposedly believed to be a temple priest who was beheaded and his body parts spread to all parts of the world, some still missing by the anti-Christian Emperor Claudius II. The crime? Helping Roman soldiers to marry when they were forbidden by the Christian faith at the time. Another theory suggests that St. Valentine’s was executed because the priest tried to convert the emperor into Christianity and to renounce his faith.
It is also believed that St. Valentines was executed on the 14th of February, hence the day, Valentine’s Day, although some study suggests that the priest died somewhere in the middle of the month.
So how did a Christian martyr who was executed, somewhere around 269 A.D end up in Archie’s and Hallmark cards? One study suggests that when Pope Gelasius I dedicated February 14th to the saint and martyr Valentine, he chose that date to replace the traditional Roman feast Lupercalia, a pagan festival, where young boys and girls are romantically paired in honour of the Roman God, Lupercus or Faunus.
The pagan fertility festival was, at that time, celebrated with rituals like foot racing among naked men, covered in skins of sacrificed goats. Another ritual of the Lupercalia also required a child to pair couples at random who would have to live together and be intimate for an entire next year in order to fulfill the fertility rite. This ritual was completely against the Roman Catholic Church, who was eager to replace the ‘supposed’ pagan practices by replacing the festival of the pagans with a day to commemorate St. Valentine.
St. Valentine’s Day hence, eventually spread to parts of England and France by Benedictine monks, which later on acquired a more modern characteristics from the Middle Ages to beyond and the current times.