The History of Valentine’s Day

As a Historian and Writer, I’m forever asking questions.  Today is no exception.  I was curious about this lover’s holiday and wanted to know just how it got its start.  Of course it didn’t surprise me that it’s roots go back to Late Antiquity.  (Dr. Matthew Byron, our expert professor on Roman and Late Antiquity history here at Young Harris College would be so proud of me for using knowledge I learned in his class).

Saint Valentine began his career as the Bishop of Terni, in a providence outside of Rome.  He lived during a time when the Christian religion was still very new and persecution of those practicing the religion was in its heyday, as the elites and government of Rome viewed them as rebellious to civil law.  Defiantly the Bishop married Christian couples when it was forbidden and aided Christians in any way possible.  The Emperor Claudius Gothicus, also known as Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Augustus or Claudius II, had Valentinus arrested and imprisoned.  (Valens was a very popular name at that time and it means ‘worthy, strong, powerful’)  The emperor took a liking to the priest for a while, until Valentinus tried to convert him to Christianity.  This signed his death warrant and after being beaten and tortured, they finally behead the poor man.

Saint Valentinus became associated with lovers because he had stuck his neck out to marry people during a dangerous time in Roman history.  February 14th was the day first established by Pope Gelasius in 496AD after Constantine’s reign, to celebrate Valentinus as a martyr of the faith.  (It was deleted from the Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.)

The theme was not really adopted until the middle ages when Geoffrey Chaucer began his writing career.  Best known for “The Canterbury Tales,” Chaucer was instrumental in sling-shoting the association of Saint Valentine with love and affection,.  Of course in today’s world it has the same marketing presence that Christmas and Easter carry, and we humans feel forced to spend lots of money on candy hearts and chocolate.  (I’m not totally against that! Especially if the box come with Flowers)

So, thanks for sitting through my brief history lesson on Valentine’s Day.  Hope everyone gets lots of flowers and chocolate.



8 thoughts on “The History of Valentine’s Day”

  1. Enjoyed the lesson. I’m not too big on history or Valentines day but this was really fascinating. I never knew how it all came about. Maybe I’ll have to work some history reading into my blog browsing diet more often 🙂


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