Some parts of the history of Valentine's Day remain unclear. Although the holiday clearly has Christian roots, there also seems to be a link between the holiday and pagan traditions. In addition, over time the holiday has become one linked to romance, and it has been greatly commercialized. An examination of the history of Valentine’s Day reveals that the holiday has undergone an intense evolution to now become the holiday of love that so many people celebrate.
Fact #1: Valentine’s Day may be associated with an ancient pagan holiday.
While Christian traditions cite various Saints that were the cause for the creation of Saint Valentine’s Day celebrations, there are some historians that assert a connection with this holiday with an ancient pagan festival: the Festival of Lupercalia. This festival involved honoring the Roman Goddess Juno: the queen of all of the Roman gods, and a goddess associated with rites of marriage. At one time it was believed that this goddess’s name literally translated as the word “love,” but latter etymologies suggest that her name literally translates as “younger.” This festival also involved the honoring of Remus and Romulus, the legendary twins that were raised up by wolf packs only to later become the founders of the ancient city of Rome; the legend suggests that the twins were raised in a cave identified as Lupercallus, which means “Wolf Cave.” Rites of fertility were conducted on this day that occurred on February 15th each year. Lotteries were also performed where unwed females had their name pulled from a container by unwed men; these couples were then paired off for the period of a year.
Fact #2: There was not only one Saint Valentine, but three.
At present, there are three different martyred saints that have the name of Valentinus or Valentine: these saints are still recognized by the Catholic Church. It is still uncertain which of these Saints are really connected with St. Valentine's Day. These Saints include Saint Valentine of Rome, Saint valentine of Terni, and Saint Valentine of France. Valentine or Rome was a former Roman priest martyred circa 269 CE; his remains were placed at the Via Flaminia. Today, relics of this Saint can be found at the white Friar Street Carmelite Church: a holy site in Dublin, Ireland, and in a Rome-based church: the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome. Saint Valentine of Rome was believed to have defied Emperor Claudius II during the third century after the Emperor had ruled that single men were more desirable soldiers when compared to men with wives and children and therefore forbid young men to marry. The priest went against the ruling of Claudius II and married young men and women anyway; after the emperor learned of what the priest was doing he ordered his execution. Alternative legends assert that Valentine aided Christians as they made attempts to escape the confines of prisons in Rome.Others assert that the Saint helped Christians escape the myriad tortures that they endured in Roman prisons.
Meanwhile, Valentine of Termi was the bishop of Interamna circa 197 CE. The latter saint was martyred while persecuted during the rulership of the Emperor Aurelian. Along with Valentine of Rome, the Valentine of Terni is buried at the Via Flaminia. Relics of this saint can be found at the Basilica di San Valentino. The third Saint Valentine was from France, but little is known about this saint other than that he was martyred along with several of his companions. When it comes to elements of romance, nothing can be officially associated with the lives of any of the saints herein mentioned.
Who the real Saint Valentine was remains ambiguous, and even the Church declared that they know little to nothing about the Saint that inspired the annual celebration of Saint Valentine’s Day. For this reason. the church officially removed the holiday from religious calendars in the early 1970s since they had little information about the martyred saint.
Fact #3: Saint Valentine may not have been the first person to send a Valentine greeting to his beloved.
Legends assert that Saint Valentine sent a greeting to his beloved while he was imprisoned. According to The Golden Legend, the night before Valentine was to be killed for defying Emperor Claudius II’s decree, he wrote a note to a young female whom he loved. It is believed that this female was actually the daughter of the jailer and that she had befriended him while he was imprisoned. This note was signed “From your Valentine.” Bear in mind that The Golden Legend has absolutely no basis in history or concrete fact however, and that the story may actually be an alteration of a real event that occurred during the fifteenth century.
Charles of Valois, a Duke of Orleans, was imprisoned after being captured and wounded in the Battle of Agincourt in the year 1415. He had been captured by Sir Richard Waller and taken to the country of England as Waller’s hostage; he remained imprisoned for 24 hours and during that time he produced poetry; of the poems he authored, he wrote one to his wife stating: “Je suis desja d'amour tanne, Ma tres doulce Valentinee” which literally translates as “I am already sick [tired] of love, my very gentle [sweet] Valentine”. This sentiment is the oldest known Valentine greeting ever sent. Even today, it remains on display at the British Library. This story is strikingly similar to the notion that Saint Valentine, while imprisoned and awaiting execution, addressed the first Valentine to a young girl that he loved.
Fact #4: Saint Valentine’s Day has pretty much lost all of its religious connotations.
During the sixteenth century, Saint Francis de Sales, concerned for the souls of his parishioners, preached that the act of sending Valentines is something that should not be condoned. By the 1970s, the Church had officially removed Saint Valentine’s Day from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints after revamping the calendar. This made the holiday one that was relegated to secular calendars only. The church at reasoned at the time that since very little is known about any of the legendary Saint Valentines, other than where they might be currently buried and where the presence of their relics are, there was no reason to identify the Saint with a religious holiday. Some religious celebrations continued, although relatively few, including those in Malta where the relics are located. Catholics that adhered to the pre-Second Vatican Council religious calendar also continued to support the holiday.
Fact #5: Saint Valentine’s Day is also known for a terrible massacre, dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
While the term Valentine’s Day has long been associated with love and romance, the day is not necessarily one that is always associated with happy events. In the late 1920s for example, a terrible massacre occurred that is now dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; during the attack six North Side Gang members and another individual were brutally murdered. It is believed by some that the massacre was ordered by Al Capone, and those that were shot to death include Peter Gusenberg, Albert Kachellek, Adam Heyer, Reinhart Schwimmer, Albert Weinshank, and John May.