Origins of Valentine’s Day
Bible Study – Additional Side Study
Origins of St. Valentine’s Day
Let us take a brief look at a holiday (holy day). This time we are going to turn our attention to St. Valentine’s Day. Perhaps others have grown out of this holiday and no longer celebrate. When I was in grade school we used to hand out Valentine’s to several of the opposite sex. There was an exchange of little candy hearts with various sayings and heart shaped boxes of candy. In my youthful ignorance I never once considered the origins of such folly. For me it was just another holiday that I looked forward to. Which girl would give me a Valentine; my mother would get us kids a box of chocolates. However should a Christian celebrate St. Valentine’s Day? Should they allow their children to celebrate it?
In this side study we are going to take a look at St. Valentine’s Day from a historical perspective. We are going to use two sources that I obtained several years ago. The first will be from an old book, the second from an online source. Certainly there is much more information available online now than what there were several years ago, but this study is not meant to be in depth, rather just give you a basic overview.
Origins of St. Valentine’s Day
“Now, there is no custom without a reason. But the reason for this cannot be found in the life of the good saint who is made to indorse the custom with his name. He wrote no love-songs. No one rises up to accuse him of casting sheep’s eyes on any Roman maiden.”1 So if St. Valentine’s was not responsible for originating this holiday then exactly who was he?
“He was a bishop or Pope of Rome who stood steadfast to the faith during the Claudian persecutions, and for that faith was cast into jail, where he cured his keeper’s daughter of blindness.”2 Cupid is the centerpiece of St. Valentine’s day, but did you also know that Cupid is portrayed blind? “It is the pleasure of Cupid, blind himself, to bring upon his votaries a similar blindness, not to cure it.”3 As the story continues, “…the fate of St. Valentine when the miracle was made known to the authorities…was…they first beat him with clubs and then beheaded him.”4 Afterwards “what was left of him is preserved in the church of St. Praxedes at Rome, where a gate, now known as the Porta del Popolo, was formerly named, in his honor, Porta Valentini, or Valentine’s Gate.”5 To quite the surprise there is yet another Catholic saint whom claims a share in the day. His name like the first was also St. Valentine.
St. Valentine, the second one, “…was the bishop who healed a son of Craton the rhetorician, and was choked to death bey a fish-bone.”6 Continuing, “either Valentine would be surprised to find himself a lovers’ saint…”7 So just where does St. Valentine’s Day come from if neither of the Valentine’s in the past have anything to do with the customs of today’s holiday?
“Singing Cupids are thy choristers and thy precentors, and instead of the crosier the mystical arrow is borne before thee.”8
According to an etymologist “v and g were frequently interchangeable in popular speech, and as a notable instance produces the words gallant and valiant, which both spring from the Latin valens. He then explains that the Norman work galantine, a lover of the fair sex, or what in these slangy days might be called a masher, was frequently written and pronounced valantan or valentine. And from these premises he concludes that by a natural confusion of names Bishop Valentine was established as the patron saint of sweethearts and lovers, although he has no real connection, not even an etymological one, with that class of beings.”9 While this can certainly explain how St. Valentine came to be associated with the holiday, it does not explain the origin of the customs. There is more to the story and for that we turn to a lexicographer.
Looking at the first of the great English dictionaries, we will source Bailey from 1721. “Valentines (in England). About this time of the year – month of February – the Birds choose their Mates, and probably thence came the Custom of the Young Men and Maidens choosing Valentines, or special loving Friends, on that Day.”10 This is still not a good explanation so we will now turn to the antiquary, Francis Douce in his Illustrations of Shakespeare, 1807.
Douce ‘suggests that St. Valentine’s Day is the Christianized form of the classic Lupercalia, which were feasts held in Rome during the month of February in honor of Pan and Juno (hence known as Juno Februata”, when amoung other ceremonies it was customary to put the names of young women into a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed, and that the Christian clergy, finding it difficult or impossible to extirpate the pagan practice, gave it at least a religious aspect by substituting the names of particular saints for those of the women.”11 His claim is butter up by Rev. Alban Butler, a hagiologist. (…the author of a worshipful or idealizing biography)12
According to the book, Lives of the Saints, Butler explains that “pastors of the Christian Church, ‘by every means in teir power, worked zealously to readicate the vestiges of pagan superstition; chiefly by the simple process of retaining the ceremonies, but modifying their significance; and substituted, for the drawing of names in honor of the goddess Febrata Juno, the names of some particular saints. But as the festival of the Lupercalia took place during February, the 14 of that month, St. Valentine’s Day, was selected for this new feast, as occurring about the same time.”13 To further evaluate the origin of this holiday we turn to John Lydgate and a poem in praise of Catherine, the wife of Henry V.
Seynte Valentine of custome yeere by yeere
Men have an usuance, in this regioun,
To love andserche Cupides kalendere,
And chose theyr choyse by grete affeccioun,
Such as ben move with Cupides mocioun,
Takyng theyre choyse as theyre sort doth falle;
But I love oon whiche excelleth alle.14
Turning to a more modern day source we gather the following information, “In the days of the Roman Empire, the month of February was the last and shortest month of the year. February originally had 30 days, but when Julius Caesar named the month of July after himself, he decided to make that month longer and shortened February to 29 days while making July a month of 31 days. Later when Octavius Caesar, also known as Augustus, came to power, he named the month of August after himself, and not be outdone he also subtracted a day from February and gave the month of August 31 days. To this very day it remains that way. The ancient Romans believed that every month had a spirit that gained in strength and reached its peak or apex of power in the middle or ides of the month. This was usually the 15th day, and it was a day when witches and augurs, or soothsayers worked their magic. An augur was a person filled with a spirit of divination, and from the word augur we get the word “inaugurate”, which means to “take omens”. Since February had been robbed by Caesars and had only 28 days, the ides of February became the 14th day of that month. Since the Ides of a month was celebrated on the preceding eve, the month of February was unique, because it was the 13th day that became the eve of the Ides that month, and it became a very important pagan holiday in the Empire of Rome. The sacred day of February 14th was called “Lupercalia” or “day of the wolf.” This was a day that was sacred to the sexual frenzy of the goddess Juno. This day also honored the Roman gods, Lupercus and Faunus, as well as the legendary twin brothers, who supposedly founded Rome, Remus and Romulus. These two are said to have been suckled by wolves in a cave on Palatine Hill in Rome. The cave was called Lupercal and was the center of the celebrating on the eve of Lupercalia or February 14th. On this day, Lupercalia, which was later named Valentine’s Day, the Luperci or priests of Lupercus dressed in goatskins for a bloody ceremony. The priests of Lupercus, the wolf god, would sacrifice goats and a dog and then smear themselves with blood. These priests, made red with sacrificial blood, would run around Palatine Hill in a wild frenzy while carving a goatskin thong called a “februa.” Women would sit all around the hill, as the bloody priests would strike them with the goatskin thongs to make them fertile. The young women would then gather in the city and their names were put in boxes. These “love notes” were called “billets.” The men of Rome would draw a billet, and the woman whose name was on it became his sexual lust partner with whom he would fornicate until the next Lupercalia or February 14th.”15
This concludes our brief look at the origin of St. Valentine’s Day. As a Christian you will have to decide what to do with this information.
“And if it seems evil to you to serve Jehovah, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers have served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.” Joshua 24:15 (From the VW-Edition, www.a-voice.org)
1. Curiosities of Popular Customs, Walsh, 1898
13. Curiosities of Popular Customs, Walsh, 1898
15. http:www.lasttrumpetministries.org/tracts/tract6.html, Last Trumpet Ministries, Pastor David Meyer, Beaver Dam, WI