The history of St. Valentine's Day PDF Print E-mail


DSC05197St. Valentine's Day was set by Pope Gelasius around 498 AD.  As a part of Christianisation, the ‘love lottery’ on Lupercalia was inevitably outlawed.  The Church successfully found a very close day, 14 February when St. Valentine martyrized, to replace this pagan festival.


In Christian history, there are three martyred priests named Valentine associated with 14 February: one of Interamna (modern Terni), one of Rome, and one suffered a lot in Africa.  Amongst them, Valentine of Rome is the most widely acclaimed.


Valentine in legends was sympathetic, heroic, and tragic.  Flashing back to the Roman Empire, ruler Claudius II the Cruel once banned marriages for young men, as he believed that single men would make better soldiers.  Disregarding the prohibition, priest Valentine insisted that marriage was part of God's plan and purpose for the world, and secretly conducted weddings between young people in the name of love.  His courage led him into jail, and finally beheaded on 14 February 270.  However, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter before his execution, and once sent her a note with the phrase 'from your Valentine'.  This legend encouraged the common practice of passing love notes to one’s beloved on St. Valentine’s Days in later ages.


Later in the High Middle Ages (the 11th-13th centuries), a romantic element had been infused to St. Valentine’s Day.  In his Parlement of Foules (1382), or ‘Parliament of Fowls’ in modern English, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote,


     For this was on seynt Volantynys day  (For this was on Saint Valentine's Day)
     Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.  (When every fowl comes there to choose his mate.)


This is a celebratory poem for the engagement of Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia.  From then on, people in England and France tended to believe that birds started to mate from mid February.  And, not surprisingly, Valentine remained one of the most popular saints in these countries.  Yet, some argue that Chaucer’s poem may actually refer to 2 May, the day of St. Valentine of Genoa, as this time is more likely for birds to mate in England.


Like many other festivals, St. Valentine’s Day has been commercialised in the secularised modern world.  Chocolates, flowers, cards, and even jewellery become popular gifts.  Nowadays an estimated one billion St Valentine's Day cards is sent every year, making it the second biggest card-sending season after Christmas.  However, the theme of love continue, showing that the features of the ancient ceremonies remain regardless of all the Christian modifications.