History of love: Behind the legends of Valentine’s Day

Megan Casey, Editor-in-Chief

People often associate Valentine’s Day with hearts, candies and flowers, but have you ever wondered how this holiday came to be? Yes, Valentine’s Day was not created by card companies as some people often believe it to be.

Valentine’s Day is said to have originated in pagan times where February 14 was celebrated in honor of the Roman god of Fertility. This February fertility festival also marked the beginning of a spring festival, the Feast of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15. In this festival, boys would draw names of girls from a box and this would join the two as a couple for a year. In some cases, these couples would sometimes fall in love and eventually marry.

The most well-known historical legend of Valentine’s Day is perhaps the story of Saint Valentine. It was due to the daring efforts of this priest that gave the festival its name. The story goes that during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in several bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius found it tough to get soldiers and felt the reason was due to men not joining the army because they did not wish to leave their wives and families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. The romantic at heart priest of Rome Valentinus, who we know as Saint Valentine, defied Claudius’s unjustified order. Along with Saint Marius, Saint Valentine secretly married couples. When his defiance was finally discovered, Valentine was brutally beaten and put to death on February 14, about 270 AD. It was after his death that Valentine was named a saint.

According to another version of the legend, Valentine was killed because he attempted to help Christians escape from the Roman prison where they were being tortured and beaten. In a version of this same legend, it is stated that while in prison Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter who visited him during confinement. Before his death Valentine wrote a farewell letter to her from the jail and signed the letter ‘From your Valentine’. The expression became quite popular and is still used today.

By the Middle Ages, Valentine assumed the image of both a heroic and romantic figure amongst the many people in England and France. Later, when Christianity spread through Rome, the priests decided to move the celebration of Lupercalia from February 15 to February 14. Around 498 AD, Pope Gelasius officially declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day to honor the martyr Valentinus as well as to end the pagan celebration.