By: Hannah Gandee
Valentine’s Day has been a holiday for love and happiness for many years, but where did the holiday come from? The truth is Valentine’s Day wasn’t a declared holiday until the reign of Pope Gelasius (492- 496 AD). But who was Valentine?
There are at least three Saint Valentines recognized by the Catholic Church, but no one knows for sure which is the original. There are also three versions to the Valentine legend, all of which are reasonably different.
The first version claims Valentine was a Roman priest in third century Rome. After young men were forbidden to marry women because a single man made a better soldier, an order given by Emperor Claudius II, Valentine continued to marry young lovers in direct opposition to the Emperor’s command. His actions were discovered and he was put to death for his disobedience. A tragic ending for a man dedicated to love.
Next comes the legend that Valentine helped Christians escape from Roman prisons. While this doesn’t seem romantic, it does show bravery and courage adding to the heroics of St. Valentine’s legend.
The final legend is that St. Valentine wrote the first Valentine greeting while in prison to the daughter of his jailor. However, no one is sure of why he was imprisoned or when it took place. Such a romance seems fit for a work of Shakespeare.
Which one of these legends is the truth we will never know.
Surprisingly, celebrations that dealt with romance took place before Valentine’s Day. In fact it is believed that the holiday was meant to “Christianize” another holiday by the name of Lupercalia which took place on February 15.
Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god Faunus and to the Roman founder Romulus and Remus. This holiday often saw the birth of new marriages after the event of bachelors picking names of single women within the town and the two being paired for a year.
The declaration of Valentine’s Day on February 14 was made by Pope Gelasius at the end of the fifth century. However the use of written valentines didn’t happen until after 1400, the oldest of which was written in the year 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was locked in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.
Modern Valentine’s Day is officially celebrated in Canada, the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. In fact, Americans most likely began exchanging hand-made valentines in in the early 1700’s. Then, during the 1840’s, a woman named Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass produced valentines in America. These changes and improvements have helped develop the holiday into what we know today.