Valentine’s Day is a bright light in the middle of the winter. Come February 14, sweethearts celebrate their love and affection for one another on this day devoted to happy couples.
The origin of Valentine’s Day has generated much speculation over the years. Most early accounts do not point to heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates. Rather, a few distinctive tales may paint the picture of early Valentine’s Day, and they have nothing to do with stuffed animals or romantic dinners.
One of the earliest records of the term Valentine’s Day is traced to the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was a fertility festival. This annual event held on February 15 included animal sacrifices and priests called the Luperci who would take pieces of animal hide and touch it to the foreheads of women in the hopes it would make them more fertile. Fortunately for the squeamish (and the sacrificial animals), Pope Gelasius I ended Lupercalia and replaced it with St. Valentine’s Day by the end of the fifth century.
Two or three St. Valentines?
Most people attribute the origins of Valentine’s Day to the holiday’s namesake, St. Valentine. But it seems that Valentine was the surname of a few different individuals. According to History.com, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus. One Valentine was a priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, who decided that single men made better soldiers than those with families or wives. Claudius outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine disagreed with the decree and would perform marriages in secret. Others believe it was St. Valentine of Terni, a bishop beheaded by Claudius II outside of Rome, who was the true namesake.
Yet another Valentine may have been jailed and fell in love with a jailer’s daughter while in prison. He purportedly wrote to her, beginning the first Valentine card or letter tradition. Other stories say the imprisoned Valentine actually was writing to a blind woman he purportedly healed, and signed the note “from your Valentine.”
It is hard to know who is who in regard to the name Valentine, as the stories and the people behind them are used interchangeably. Some historians believe they actually are the same person rather than several Valentines, while others insist there were multiple martyred individuals.
However you slice it, the defiant actions of one or more people named “Valentine” set the course for centuries of romance to follow.