What I’d previously thought the history of St. Valentine’s day was
I’d always heard, and the kids had heard the Adventures in Odyssey episode about St. Valentine’s Day (from Eugene Returns! (Adventures in Odyssey)* ), and that emphasizes Valentine, and his marrying people and it being all about love. (Cue kissy face and sappy music).
The Adventures in Odyssey episode glosses over Valentine’s martyrdom, and emphasizes the marrying people part. But like many things in history, there’s a bit more to it.
Who is Saint Valentine?
The first problem comes because there is more than one Saint named Valentine. Actually there are two from Roman times. The next problem comes from the lack of information at that time. Valentine quite probably lived during the 3rd century, a time rife with problems and conflicts and it’s amazing the Roman empire survived it.
Here is the frequently accepted history of Saint Valentine.
Valentine was a bishop (or priest) of the church. He believed strongly in the sanctity of marriage and would often marry couples before the man went off to war. This became a problem when the local governor decided no one was to marry (probably because of a coming war and the need for more soldiers), another variation says the governor was not allowing people of different stations to marry (no slaves marrying freed men, no freed men marrying patricians). More than likely this was a short term ban, but we don’t know (back to that lack of documentation). Valentine ignored the rule.
He kept marrying people in secret, and eventually was caught and imprisoned. While in jail he was kind and loving to all. The jailer’s daughter was blind and treated as worse than a slave. Valentine healed her blindness and that is his first recorded miracle.
Eventually Valentine was tried for breaking the law and martyred.
The history of St. Valentine’s Day and it’s Roman roots
Around February 14 was a Roman holiday, Lupercalia, and the pope at that time wanted to create a holiday the Christians could celebrate in the middle of a cold winter without celebrating a Pagan holiday. Valentine, the afore-mentioned saint had been martyred on February 14, so he encouraged Christians to celebrate those who had been martyred for their faith. So for the first little while Valentine’s Day was celebrating those who had been killed for their faith and Christian fellowship.
The rise of romanticism and Valentine’s Day
After Constantine and the fall of the Roman empire a while later the religion was quite firmly associated with St. Valentine. At that time people also started to associate it with the start of many birds’ mating season, noticing birds were pairing up around then, and people were starting to think of Spring and pairing up themselves, and the belief slowly moved form Christian fellowship to romance (okay not so slowly).
Fast forward a few centuries and we hit the Victorian era. Now that’s a time period for people who like being in love, that’s what it was all about, big sappy Valentines, lots of lace and frippery, and long sighs.
And that is where our history of St. Valentine’s Day comes from.