The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer Chaucer wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

[“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]

This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. A treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381. (When they were married eight months later, they were each only 15 years old).

Readers have uncritically assumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine’s Day; however, mid-February is an unlikely time for birds to be mating in England. Henry Ansgar Kelly has pointed out that in the liturgical calendar, May 2 is the saints’ day for Valentine of Genoa. This St. Valentine was an early bishop of Genoa who died around AD 307.

Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules is set in a fictional context of an old tradition, but in fact there was no such tradition before Chaucer. The speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-century antiquaries, notably Alban Butler, the author of Butler’s Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. Most notably, “the idea that Valentine’s Day customs perpetuated those of the Roman Lupercalia has been accepted uncritically and repeated, in various forms, up to the present.”

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Lupercalia was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral festival, observed on February 13 through 15 to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, a possibly earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name.

The Lupercalia by name was believed in antiquity to have some connection with the Ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia (from Ancient Greek: λύκοςlykos, “wolf”, Latin lupus) and the worship of Lycaean Pan, the Greek equivalent to Faunus, as instituted by Evander.

In Roman mythology, Lupercus is a god sometimes identified with the Roman god Faunus, who is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Pan. Lupercus is the god of shepherds. His festival, celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple on February 15, was called the Lupercalia. His priests wore goatskins. The 2nd-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr mentions an image of “the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus,” nude save for the girdle of goatskin, which stood in the Lupercal, the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. There, on the Ides of February, a goat and a dog were sacrificed, and salt mealcakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins were burnt.

The Early Medieval acta of either Saint Valentine were expounded briefly in Legenda Aurea. According to that version, St Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer.

Since Legenda Aurea still provided no connections whatsoever with sentimental love, appropriate lore has been embroidered in modern times to portray Valentine as a priest who refused an unattested law attributed to Roman Emperor Claudius II, allegedly ordering that young men remain single. The Emperor supposedly did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail.

There is an additional modern embellishment to The Golden Legend, provided by American Greetings to History.com, and widely repeated despite having no historical basis whatsoever. On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he would have written the first “valentine” card himself, addressed to a young girl variously identified as his beloved, as the jailer’s daughter whom he had befriended and healed, or both. It was a note that read “From your Valentine.”

Saint Valentine’s Day, commonly shortened to Valentine’s Day, is an annual commemoration held on February 14 celebrating love and affection between intimate companions. The day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs named Valentine and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 500 AD. It was deleted from the Roman calendar of saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, but its religious observance is still permitted. It is traditionally a day on which lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines“). The day first became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

Modern Valentine’s Day symbols include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards.

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae) and Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae). Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome, and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.

Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197 and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni (Basilica di San Valentino).

The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.

No romantic elements are present in the original early medieval biographies of either of these martyrs. By the time a Saint Valentine became linked to romance in the 14th century, distinctions between Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni were utterly lost.

In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feastday of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.” The feast day is still celebrated in Balzan (Malta) where relics of the saint are claimed to be found, and also throughout the world by Traditionalist Catholics who follow the older, pre-Second Vatican Council calendar.