Few patron saints have birthed polarizing legacies as lasting as Saint Valentine. Valentine’s Day, or Saint Valentine’s Day, is a recognized holiday, occurring each year on February 14, wherein lovers exchange gifts and indulge in pleasantries. Alternatively, the unattached are often left to feel castigated for their failures to find a partner. Whatever your thoughts on the occasion, Saint Valentine’s history is as important as it is fascinating and murky.
According to the Catholic Church, there are at least two different “recognized” saints named Valentine or Valentinus – all of whom appear in stories wherein the protagonist is martyred for acts of great heroism.
One popular belief is that Valentine was a priest in third-century Rome who, recognizing the injustice of Emperor Claudius II’s decree to outlaw marriage for young men to better prepare them as soldiers, continued to wed young lovers in secret.
Another story features Valentine as a prisoner who fell in love with his jailor’s daughter after she had visited him in his cell. Before being taken to his death, it is alleged that the protagonist wrote to the maiden, professing his undying love, before signing it, “From Your Valentine.” And, it is speculated that the reason Saint Valentine’s Day is commemorated on February 14 is that that is likely the time that Valentine’s death or burial occurred, in about 270 A.D.
But that’s not all. An even grander theory exists, one with a distinctly unorthodox influence. Lupercalia, which was traditionally celebrated mid-February, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, the founders of the Roman Kingdom.
Members of a Roman order of priests (Luperci) would gather at a sacred site where the infant twin brothers were believed to have been cared for by a half-woman half-wolf, or a “Lupa.” Following a series of animal sacrifices and physical benedictions, the local townswomen would resultantly become more fertile, thus first linking the seemingly random day in February to fruitfulness between married couples.
During the Middle Ages, it was a commonly held belief by the people of France and England that February 14 was the first day of the mating season for local birds. This, coupled with the composition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous lyrical poem, “Parlement of Foules,” saw Valentine’s Day make a marked turn towards its now common association as a day of romance.