History behind Valentine’s Day

Vintage Valentine's Day Clip Art

A clubbing and decapitation of a martyr from the Catholic Church is part of the origin of this lovers’ holiday.

Each year on February 14th, people scramble to find the perfect card, gift, and token of love for their heart’s desire but how did the day come to be celebrated? The history of the day for lovers may surprise many and repulse others. Valentine’s day is based on the death of a saint who only wanted to encourage the sanctity of marriage.

The Roman Lottery

As far back as the fourth century a young man’s rite of passage was marked in an annual celebration by the Romans. Each young unmarried woman put her name in a box and the names were drawn by men randomly. When the name was drawn that women was given to the man who had drawn her name for one year. The men used the women for entertainment, which could include sexual favors, and companionship.

At the end of the year another lottery was held and the men received new women to service them. The early Church “fathers” sought to put an end to this custom by finding a “lovers” saint to replace the deity Lupercus, who the lottery glorified.

The Church decided to use Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred over two hundred years before.

Claudius II Bans Marriage

Valentine made the emperor Claudius II angry when he performed marriages against the edict that abolished marriages. Claudius felt that soldiers who were married didn’t perform well during battle so he passed a law making marriages illegal. Valentine, who was then the bishop of Interamna, would, despite the law, marry young lovers in the sacrament of matrimony. When Claudius learned of this blasphemy he demanded that Valentine be brought to court. At first Claudius, who was impressed with the dignity and fortitude of the young bishop just tried to convince him to stop the marriages and join in worship of the Roman Gods.

When Valentine refused to do as Claudius requested, Claudius sentenced him to death. On February 24, 270, Valentine was executed by being stoned, clubbed and finally beheaded.

From Your Valentine

There is also a story that while in prison waiting execution Valentine fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. The story goes on to say that his faith in God and his love for Asterius healed her blindness. He left her a letter that was signed “From your Valentine” A signature that is still used today thousands of years after his death.

The Church felt that Valentine would be the best way to get rid of Lupercus and the lottery associated with him. So in A.D. 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the February Lupercian festival. However knowing how the Romans loved the lottery, Gelasius didn’t totally outlaw the game. Instead of single women‘s names going into the box, names of saints went in. The men, (and now the women also) were then to draw the name of a saint out and during the coming year they had to emulate the life of the saint’s name they had drawn.

Of course this was a very different game and it stands to reason that the men were not very happy but since the Pope laid down the rules the lottery was followed. With great reluctance and with time the Romans seem to relinquish their pagan lottery and replaced it with a day to honor love and a Saint who believed in marriage.