Valentine’s Day is a bright light in the middle of winter. Come Feb. 14, sweethearts celebrate their love and affection for one another on this day devoted to happy couples.
The origin of the holiday has generated much speculation over the years. A few distinctive tales may paint the picture of early Valentine’s Day, which had nothing to do with stuffed animals, heart-shaped chocolate boxes or romantic dinners.
One of the earliest records of the term “Valentine’s Day” is traced to the Roman celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival. This annual event, held on Feb. 15, included animal sacrifices and priests called the Luperci who would take pieces of animal hide and touch it to the foreheads of women in the hopes it would make them more fertile. Fortunately for the squeamish (and the sacrificial animals), Pope Gelasius I ended Lupercalia and replaced it with St. Valentine’s Day by the end of the fifth century.
Two or three St. Valentines?
Most people attribute the origins of Valentine’s Day to the holiday’s namesake, St. Valentine. But it seems that Valentine was the surname of a few different individuals. According to History.com, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus.
One Valentine was a priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, who decided that single men made better soldiers than those with families or wives. Claudius outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine disagreed with the decree and would perform marriages in secret.
Others believe St. Valentine of Terni, a bishop beheaded by Claudius II outside of Rome, was the true namesake.
Yet another Valentine was imprisoned and may have fallen in love with a jailer’s daughter. He purportedly wrote to her, beginning the first Valentine’s card tradition. Other stories say Valentine was actually writing to a blind woman he healed and signed the note “from your Valentine.”
It’s hard to know who’s who in regard to the name Valentine, as the stories and the people behind them are used interchangeably. Some historians believe they’re the same person, while others insist there were multiple martyred individuals.
However you slice it, the defiant actions of one or more people named “Valentine” set the course for centuries of romance to follow.
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