Valentine’s Day is linked to fertility and life. Saint Valentine has been the day of love for centuries. Find out its origin with us
An evolution of the Lupercales celebration
The Lupercales (lupercalia in Latin origin) were pagan celebrations held in the old Rome. These were fertility rites involving adolescents from the wealthy classes who literally behaved like animals: the very name of the holidays comes from the Latin words “wolf” (lupus) and “goat” (Hircus). With rites that made reference to the lower passions and to the most primary instincts, fertility was promoted. That was what they believed in Rome. The year 496 AD came and Pope Gelasius I took advantage of the inauguration of the feast of Saint Valentine on 14th February to prohibit the Lupercales (which, as you can imagine, were not very well viewed by the Catholic Church). This coincidence is important because of the story behind the saint. Let’s see.
The Story of Valentin
Tradition tells us (we continue in Rome) that in 270 the emperor Claudius II passed a law that prohibited the legionaries to get married. He had noticed that the single soldiers were fiercer and that their lack of family ties made them braver. A certain Valentinus, a doctor by profession turned priest, not only disobeyed the emperor but also secretly married legionaries following the Christian Rite. Claudius II summoned him, and although Valentinus was able to state his reasons before the president (and even managed to capture his interest), the end result of the story was that he was beheaded. The date of his beheading, in case you didn’t guess was on February 14th. The one that the Catholic Church consecrated to its saint.
The first reference to “Valentine’s Day”, however, would be later. We find it in the poem The Parliament of the Birds of 1382 signed by the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the famous Tales of Canterbury. In which Saint Valentine’s date is established as the date of lovers. “Well this was on Valentine / When the birds choose their mate”. The poem is a reflection about the love shown by one of the author’s dream and it illustrate a Nordic tradition in which, in fact, the birds do choose Saint Valantine’s day to mate. In Spain we continue to call couples “tortolitos”, so this theory does not seem very misguided
From the Middle Ages to today
And it seems that Chaucer’s poem was a hit of such caliber that from then on, the relationship between February 14th and lovers was forged as indissoluble. The first celebrations were organized by Charles VI of France almost twenty years later. It was not original. It was a tournament where contestants fought to get maid. It was customary at the time, but Charles VI established it precisely on February 14th. And almost a century later, Charles of Orleans, prisoner in the Tower of London, decided to write to his wife the first letter of Saint Valentine of the history. Between one thing and the other, in the middle of the fifteenth century we already have the date of February 14th established in half Europe as the day when lovers were writing love letters and poems. And at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the tradition is as intense (as much as the laziness of lovers) that we already find small companies dedicated to print letters with generic and impersonal messages of love. At the beginning of the twentieth century, industrialization massifies these gifts and popularizes them. Do not you think it would be worth making personal and unique gifts again?