From Goat Blood to Lace Cards – The Evolution of Valentine’s Day

There is more than one legend regarding the origin of Valentine’s Day and its celebration. The actual facts have apparently been lost over the years. At least two stories date back to third century Rome. At this time ancient Romans celebrated the birth of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, on the Ides of February, February 15, with a Lupercalia festival. Goats were sacrificed and males of around 14 years of age celebrated their maturity by gently slapping pieces of the goat hides against women marking them with the goat’s blood. Ladies today would be offended by this treatment but Roman women considered it a way to bring them fertility and considered it good luck. Another part of the festival involved the young men choosing single women’s names from a vessel and pairing with them for a year. Many of these matches ended in marriage.

As one legend is told, The Emperor Claudius banned marriage, thinking that single men made better soldiers. Needless to say the young people of Rome weren’t all in favor of the Emperor’s solution. The Christian Church was in its infancy at this time and a young priest by the name of Valentine secretly married couples anyway. Emperor Claudius had Valentine arrested for this and later executed him. During his incarceration Valentine either fell in love with or healed the blindness of a young woman, possibly his jailer’s daughter. Before dying he wrote her a note, signing it “from your Valentine”. Some say he was executed on February 14th but other dates are mentioned as well. While some historians believe that St. Valentine’s Day was placed on February 14th to celebrate the anniversary of his death, others believe that the 14th was chosen to “Christianize” the Lupercalian Festivals. Pope Gelasius I, who spent much of his papacy trying to end pagan rites in general and specifically the Lupercalia, declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day around 496 A.D. According to New Advent, an online Catholic Encyclopedia, Gelasius’ writing on the subject is one of his few surviving treastises.

In approximately 1380 Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Parliament of Fowles, in which he uses spring and birds’ mating in spring to describe the courtship & marriage of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. St. Valentine figures prominently in Chaucer’s verse and is the first known mention of St, Valentine in poetry.


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