The History Of Valentine's Day
By: Maricruz Tennill
St Valentine's Day is part of Britain's culture, for one day a year we invest in cards, flowers, meals, holidays, hotels, just about anything that can be given in the form of a gift to show our nearest and dearest that we love them (even if we do often do it grudgingly). Yet, for all the attention that is devoted to the day each year, how many people actually know who St Valentine was? Or what he or she did to merit St Valentine's Day.
Simply enough, there is no single St Valentine. In early Christianity there were several St Valentines of which two claim February 14th as their feast day. These two are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni, both of whom are buried on the same street in Rome. Neither of these two men have any proven link to romance.
There is some suggestion that a third St Valentine may be able to claim February 14th as his own. Early Catholic martyrologies (not always the most reliable source) suggest that a Valentine was martyred in Africa with a group of followers, but little is known about him aside from those few details.
Moving from the strictly historical to the world of fiction, stories start to emerge about one of our St Valentines. In one account from an early medieval text Emperor Claudius II puts St Valentine to death for his Christianity, but only after Valentine, in an attempt to convince the Emperor of the holiness of Christ, performs a miracle by restoring the sight of the blind daughter of his jailer.
So far, so platonic. Until the 1900s when the story was given another, entirely fictional, twist. Valentine was allegedly arrested by Claudius for illegally performing marriage ceremonies for young men who had been ordered to remain single by the Emperor. As he is en route to being killed, Valentine is reported to have written a love note (or a Valentine's Day card) to the daughter of the jailer mentioned above.
Other stories place the credit for Valentine's Day at the door of Chaucer, who some argue mentioned the day in a work that he created for the wedding treaty of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia which was signed on May 2nd. May 2nd is the Saints Day for Valentine of Genoa, who'lly unconnected to February 14th, but probably the reason for the connection of love to Valentine's Day.
So, how do we get from this tenuous link to the modern St Valentine's Day? Partially via the courtly love poets of the 14th and 15th centuries, who, tradition has it, sent poems and messages to the objects of their loved ones, particularly on Valentine's Day. Hence our tradition of giving cards.
Unfortunately there is no clear explanation for our modern St Valentine's Day. It seems most likely that there was a confusion between the Saints Day of Valentine of Genoa and the more famous Saints Days of the two Valentines of Rome. Either way, it seems Chaucer has a lot to answer for.