The History of Valentine’s Day that I Never Knew

Valentine's Day
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Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. It is a day dedicated to celebrating the San Valentino, in English – Saint Valentine.

Did you know Valentine’s Day is linked to a religious festivity and originates from Italy? 

Well, I didn’t. Back in Nigeria we simply called it Valentine’s Day or Lover’s Day. And on this day, we exchange gifts with our companion (that is boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse) and spend sometime of the day together.

The original religious festival of San Valentino takes its name from the Christian saint and martyr Valentino of Terni (a city near Rome). It was established to replace the previous pagan festival of Lupercalia, presumably also with the aim of Christianising the Roman festival.

Valentines Day greeting card circa 1910 1
Valentine’s Day greeting card, circa 
1910

In the days around mid-February, in Ancient Rome it was customary to celebrate the Lupercalia through festivities accompanied by various rituals, masquerades and processions.

Some of the archaic practices were related to fortifying women with fertility. The women of Rome were subjected to go in the middle of the streets while young naked men, armed with bundles of branches tied with strings lash them. Through the lashes of these men, women were believed to receive a blessing that appeased their fertility.

Part of these ritualistic manifestations has survived until today, mediated by Christian morality, in the traditions of Carnival.

Although the figure of Valentine is also known for the message of love brought by this saint, the specific association with romantic love and lovers is almost certainly later, and the question of its origin is controversial.

According to a legend, a saint gave a poor girl a sum of money, necessary for her dowry. Without this money, she would have risked perdition. The generous gift from the saint therefore created the tradition, entitling the holy bishop Valentine as the protector of lovers.

Even though the historical evolution of the anniversary remains uncertain, there are some historical references, which suggest that Valentine’s Day was dedicated to lovers since the first centuries of the second millennium.

Another event that may have supported the interpretation of Valentine’s Day as a party of lovers can be traced back to Geoffrey Chaucer, who in the Parliament of the Birds associates the anniversary with the engagement of Richard II of England with Anne of Bohemia.

Tell me, what did you know about Valentine’s day before reading this post, and what are your plans for tomorrow?

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1 Comment

  1. Izabel

    I read that Valentine was known as the saint of love because although he suffered injuries from beatings and was in pain, he still exerted himself to visit those still in prison for their faith – some of whom would be martyred. And, ironically considering that he’s now so associated with romantic/erotic love, he also founded a community (convent) for virgins at Terni. He’s a very interesting example of how a cultus changes with time. I had no idea about the Anne of Bohemia connection though. Thank you for writing this, it was fun to read.

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