Who was Saint Valentine?

Who was Saint Valentine?
February 20, 2019 Love Button Global Movement
Who was Saint Valentine?

A look at the man behind love’s most famous day

Uncovering the a actual story of the man known as Saint Valentine has been a bit of a challenge for historians for two main reasons. The first is that there were two other men with the name Valentine that were known to have lived during the same period as the famous saint. The second reason is that there are relatively few details of his life. This is what we know.

Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who lived in the third century. During the reign of Claudius II, an edict was handed down that prevented young people from getting married. The reasoning behind the ban was the belief that unmarried soldiers fought better than married men, who worried about what might happen to their wives and children if they died. Believing in the sanctity of marriage and not wanting to see the younger population fall into fornication or polyamorous relationships in what he viewed as an increasingly corrupt world, Saint Valentine began to marry young men and women in secret. Eventually, he was caught and sentenced to death.

It’s during Saint Valentine’s imprisonment where history begins to turn into legend. It is said that one of the men on the panel that was to judge Saint Valentine for his crimes was named Asterius, who had a daughter who was blind. Legend has it that Saint Valentine healed the girl with such great effect that Asterius converted to Christianity, although there is no verification for this part of the story. Prior to his being put to death in 269AD, it’s also said that Saint Valentine’s last communication was to Asterius’ daughter to which he signed, “from your Valentine”.

Before the time of Saint Valentine, the ancient Roman pagans celebrated a holiday festival focusing on love and fertility between February 13th and 15th called Lupercalia. A matchmaking lottery paired men and women up for the duration of the festival where the men would drape their women in animal pelts that were believed to promote female fertility. Some have suggested that Pope Gelasius I used the legacy of Saint Valentine to introduce Christian ideals into Lupercalia.

Who was Saint Valentine?

By the Middle Ages, courtly love had become much more common, and Saint Valentine’s feast day, as established by the Catholic church, was gaining popularity as a time to think about romantic relationships. This was also fueled by the fact that mid-February was the time in England and France when birds began pairing up for the spring mating season. Geoffrey Chaucer, 14th century poet, wrote in his “Parliament of Foules”, “For this was on Seynt Valentyne’s day, When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

About the same time in 1477, Dame Elizabeth Brews’ “Paston Letters” contain a similar reference when writing to John Paston, the suitor of her daughter, Margery. “And, cousin mine, upon Monday is St. Valentine’s day and every bird chooseth himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.”

The first officially recognized valentine is actually a letter from Margery Brews of Norfolk, England to her fiancé, John Paston, from 1477 and is preserved in the British Library. In it, she actually calls him her valentine. “Unto my right well beloved Valentine John Paston, Squyer, be this bill delivered. Right reverend and worshipful and my right well beloved Valentine, I recommend me unto you, full heartily desiring to hear of your welfare, which I beseech Almighty God long for to preserve until His pleasure and your heart’s desire.”

By the mid-19th century, romantic greeting cards had become a regular symbol of affection. It was during the industrial revolution that Cadbury debuted its heart-shaped box of chocolates. Hershey’s kisses appeared soon after in 1907. The first official Valentine’s Day cards were sent in 1913 and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, U.S. consumers alone spend nearly $20 billion to express their love for each other every February 14th.


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