There are several popular and interesting legends of Valentine’s Day. Some legends trace the origin of Valentine’s Day to pagan times, while others link it to one or more Saints of the early Christian Church.
However, another point of view about the origin of Valentine’s Day links it to the beginning of the mating season of the birds. The popularity of the festival may be due to the combined effect of all these legends along with the notion that spring is the moment of love.
Feast of Lupercalia
Several historians trace the origin of Valentine’s Day to pagan times in the ancient Roman Empire. In those days, people organized a vacation on February 14 to honor Juno, the mythological queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also considered Juno as the Goddess of Women and Marriage. From the next day, on February 15, the Fertility Festival called Fiesta de Lupercalia began. This festival was organized to protect humans from wolves and to honor the Roman Gods of Agriculture – Lupercus and Faunus in addition to the founders of Rome – Romulus and Remus. During the Lupecalia party, the members of Lupercali – an order of the Roman priest used to meet in a sacred cave where it was believed that Romulus and Remus had been cared for by a she-wolf or magnifying glass.
Following the tradition, the priest would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. The children cut the skins of the goats into strips, dipped them with sacrificial blood and moved through the streets, gently hitting the women and the fields with the skin of the animals. The women welcomed a slap, as they believed that the practice would make them more fertile. Later, during the party of Lupecalia, all the young women of the city would place a token of their name in a large urn. Then, the singles in the city would take a coin out of the urn and pair with the girl whose name was in the rest of the year. Very often, the matched couple would fall in love and get married.
Later, when Christianity spread through Rome, the practice of finding a partner through the “lottery” was considered non-Christian and outlawed. Around the year 498 AD, it is said that Pope Gelasius declared on February 14 the Valentine’s Day. Some writers link Valentine’s Day with the Feast of Lupercalia due to a similar date and connection to fertility.
Valentine’s Day Legends
Early Christian Church indicates the presence of at least two names of saints Valentine. However, some scholars say that there were up to seven saints who were credited with the name of Valentine or Valentino, all of whom lived in the third century and apparently died on the same day. Below are some of the most popular of all Valentine’s Day legends:
Saint Valentine’s Day – I
According to a very popular legend, Valentine was a priest in Rome who lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Under his regime, it is said that Claudius hired Rome in several bloody battles. To strengthen his army, the Emperor continually needed to recruit soldiers. However, Claudio discovered that not many soldiers wanted to join the army because of the bond with their wives and families. To cut the bond of attachment, Claudius canceled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, a romantic priest at heart, challenged this insensitive decree of Claudius by secretly organizing marriages of young men and women. When the Emperor discovered Valentine’s challenge, he was brutally beaten and executed on February 14, around 270 AD.
For his martyrdom and dedication to the cause, Valentine was named Saint after his death. In the Middle Ages, Valentine became popular as the patron saint of love and lovers in England and France to the extent that Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day in 498 AD and put an end to pagan celebrations. Therefore, Valentine’s Day became an occasion to celebrate love.
Valentine of Rome – II
Another famous legend about Valentine says that Valentine was a primitive Christian in Rome who was very popular among children. But during the time that Valentine lived, the Roman regime was not in favor of Christianity and even persecuted the Christians to free Rome from the followers of Christianity. Despite this strict law, Valentine continued to practice his faith and refused to worship the Roman gods. This angered Emperor Claudius II and he put Valentine in jail.
It is said that Valentine spent a year in a rigorous prison during which the children missed him a lot. They began to throw amorous notes and flowers between the bars of the window of their cell. To some extent, this legend can explain the tradition of exchanging notes and flowers on Valentine’s Day.
Some scholars believe that during his stay in prison, Valentine became friends with the blind daughter of his jailer, who sometimes brought notes and flowers to the children. Whenever possible, Valentine also responded to the notes. Days before his execution, Valentine prayed for the jailer’s daughter and regained his sight. Before his death, it is said that Valentine also wrote a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter and signed it “From Your Valentine”. This expression is popular even to this day.
Some scholars believe that Valentine was killed because he tried to help Christians escape from the Roman prison while being tortured and beaten. However, another group of scholars says that Emperor Claudius II was impressed by Valentine’s kindness and good behavior. He even claimed that Valentine could be released if he agreed to worship the Roman gods. Valentine not only refused, he even tried to convert the emperor to Christianity. This made Claudio very angry and ordered his execution. Valentine was beheaded on February 14.
Mating time of birds
During the Middle Ages, people in England and France had the popular belief that birds began to look for a partner on February 14. This popular notion further strengthened the idea that the Valentine’s Day festival that falls in mid-February should be celebrated as the day of love and romance. The concept soon gained ground among the lovers and they began to celebrate the day exchanging love notes and simple gifts like flowers.