Each year on February 14th, many people exchange cards, candy, gifts or flowers with their special “valentine.” The day of romance we call Valentine’s Day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century, but has origins in the Roman holiday Lupercalia.
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
ORIGINS OF VALENTINE’S DAY: A PAGAN FESTIVAL IN FEBRUARY
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way than this: where I does not exist nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.– Pablo Neruda, “Love Sonnet XVII”
Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.– Leo Tolstoy
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.-Helen Keller
Love does not dominate; it cultivates.– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.– Zora Neale Hurston
Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.– Anais Nin
Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.– Aristotle
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.– Lao Tzu
My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet