As with many of the “Christian” festivals, Valentine’s Day probably has pagan roots deriving from Lupercalia – a very ancient rural festival, observed on February 13 through 15, to prevent evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia included Februa, a spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name and is probably the origin of Spring Cleaning.
Another theory of the origins of Valentine’s Day is that while the Roman Emperor Claudius II was trying to bolster his army, he forbade young men to marry. In the spirit of love, St. Valentine defied the ban and performed secret marriages. For his disobedience, Valentine was executed on February 14, 270AD.
Legend has it that before Valentine was executed, Claudius imprisoned him. While in prison he fell in love with the Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer Asterius. He is reported to have performed a miracle by healing Julia. As a result of the miracle Julia, and the entire household, came to believe in Jesus and were baptised. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent a letter to Julia signed “from your Valentine.”
J.C. Cooper, in The Dictionary of Christianity, writes that Saint Valentine was “a priest of Rome who was imprisoned for succoring (aiding) persecuted Christians.” It is likely that Valentine was himself persecuted when interrogated by Emperor Claudius. In Bede’s Martyrology, which was compiled in the 8th century, it states that Saint Valentine was persecuted as a Christian. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman Paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Due to this, he was executed.
Pope Gelasius 1 adapted Lupercalia as a Christian feast day around 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t until the 14th century however, that this Christian feast day became definitively associated with love when, in 1381, Geoffrey Chaucer, the Father of English literature, composed a poem in honour of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. As was the poetic tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day – in this case it was St. Valentine’s Day. In 1537, England’s King Henry VII officially declared February 14 the holiday of St. Valentine’s Day.
By the 18th century, gift giving and exchanging hand-made cards on Valentine’s Day had become common in England and eventually spread to the American colonies.
Over the years February 14 has been celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day by various church denominations including Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic. However, in 1969 the Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar, removing the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable. St. Valentine was one of the casualties.
Today Valentine’s Day is a time to express our love to the one most special person in our life – or the one who we would like to be the ONE! As love is the overarching Christian theme it is appropriate for Christians to celebrate this day, but not to be limited by it. Every day is a day to express our love for others. I tell Christie several times a day that I love her – and she does the same. And we do our best to express our love for each other in many ways. We don’t wait for February 14th to show our love, but Valentine’s Day can be a special day to remind us of the importance of our loved ones and to give thanks for them. Let’s not miss the opportunity.