A Brief History Of Valentine's Day
In the city of Rome there once lived an emperor named
Claudius. He is known in history as Claudius the Cruel.
Near his palace was a beautiful temple where served the
priest Valentine. The Romans loved him dearly and
assembled into the temple to hear his words. Before the
fire that always burned on the altar they knelt to ask his
blessing. Rich and poor, wise and ignorant, old and young,
noble and common people they all flocked to Valentine.
In the Roman empire wars broke out. Claudius summoned
the citizens forth to battle and year after year the fighting
continued. Many of the Romans were unwilling to go. The
married men did not want to leave their families. The
younger men did not wish to leave their sweethearts. The
emperor was angry when soldiers were too few. He ordered
that no marriages should be celebrated and that all
engagements must be broken off immediately.
Many a young Roman went off to the wars in sorrow,
leaving his love. Many a Roman maiden died of grief as a
result of this decree.
Now the good priest Valentine heard of the emperor's
command and was very sad. When a young couple came
to the temple, he secretly united them in marriage in front
of the sacred altar. Another pair sought his aid and in
secret he wedded them. Others came and quietly were married.
Valentine was the friend of lovers in every district of Rome.
But, such secrets could not be kept for long. At last word
of Valentine's acts reached the palace and Claudius the
Cruel was angry, exceedingly angry. He summoned his
soldiers. "Go! Take that priest in the temple! Cast him into
a dungeon! No man in Rome, priest or not, shall disobey
Valentine was dragged from the temple, dragged away
from the altar where a young maiden and a Roman youth
stood, ready to wed. Off to prison the soldiers took him.
All of Valentine's friends as well as their friends, interceded
with Claudius in vane. Well was he named Claudius the
Cruel. In a dungeon Valentine languished and died. His
devoted friends buried him in the church of St. Praxedes.
When you go to Rome you can see the very place. It was
the year 270, on the fourteenth of February.
Another story says that Valentine was one of the early
Christians in those far-away days when that meant danger
and death. For helping some Christian martyrs he was
seized, dragged before the prefect of Rome and cast into
jail. There he cured the keeper's daughter of blindness.
When the cruel emperor learned of this miracle he gave
orders that Valentine should be beheaded. The morning of
the execution, he is said to have sent the keeper's daughter
a farewell message signed, "From your Valentine."
Long years before 270, when Rome was first founded it
was surrounded by a wilderness. Great packs of wolves
roamed over the countryside. Among their many gods the
Romans had one named Lupercus who watched over the
shepherds and their flocks. In his honor they held a great
feast in February of each year and called it the Lupercalia.
The Lupercalia festival was an echo of the days when
Rome consisted of a group of shepherd folk that lived on a
hill now know as Palantine. On the calendar used back in
those days, February came later than it does today, so
Lupercalia was a spring festival.
Some believe the festival honored Faunus, who like the
Greek Pan, was a god of herds and crops, But the origin
of Lupercalia is so ancient that even scholars of the last
century before Christ were never sure.
There is no question about its importance. Records show,
for instance, that Mark Antony, an important Roman, was
master of the Luperci College of Priests. He chose the
Lupercalia festival of the year 44 B.C. as the proper time
for offering the crown to Julius Caesar.
Each year, on February 15, the Luperci priests gathered
on the Palantine at the cave of Lupercal. Here, according
to legend, Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, had
been nursed by a mother wolf. In Latin, the word lupus is
the word for wolf.
Some of the rituals involved youths of noble birth to run
through the streets with goatskin thongs. Young women
would crowd the street in the hope of lashing the sacred
thongs as it was believed to make them better able to bear
children. The goatskin thongs were known as the februa
and the lashing the februatio, both coming from a Latin
word meaning to purify. The name of the month February
come from this meaning.
Long after Rome became a walled city and the seat of a
powerful empire, the Lupercalia lived on. When Roman
armies invaded what is now France and Britain in the first
century before Christ, they took the Lupercalia customs
there. One of these is believed to be a lottery where the
names of Roman maidens were placed in a box and drawn
out by the young men. The girl whose name he drew each
man accepted as his love - for a year or longer.
After Christianity was firmly established the priests wanted
the people to forget the old heathen gods. But they did not
wish to do away with all their feasts and sports. So they
kept the Lupercalia and called it Valentine's day.
During the medieval days of chivalry, the names of English
maidens and bachelors were put into the box and drawn
out in pairs. Each couple exchanged gifts. The girl became
the man's valentine for that year. On his sleeve he wore her
name and it was his bounded duty to attend and protect her.
This old, old custom of drawing names on the fourteenth of
February was considered a good omen for love. It often
foretold a wedding. For since the beginning of things this
has been lovers' day, a time for loving, for giving and
receiving love tokens.
History tells us the first modern valentines date from the
early years of the fifteenth century. The young French duke
of Orleans, captured at the battle of Agincourt, was kept a
prisoner in the Tower of London for many years. To his
wife he wrote poem after poem, real valentines. About
sixty of them remain. These can be seen among the royal
papers in the British Museum.
Flowers as valentines appear nearly two hundred years
later. A daughter of Henry IV of France gave a party in
honor of St. Valentine. Each lady received a beautiful
bouquet of flowers from the man chosen as her valentine.
Thus from Italy and France and England has come the
pretty custom of sending our friends loving messages on
this day. With flowers, with heart-shaped candies, with
lacy valentines whose frills and furbelows hide the initials of
the sender we honor the good priest who disobeyed Claudius the Cruel.
Back To The Valentines Day Greeting
Valentines Day Fun Facts
The History of Valentines Day
The History of Cupid
How To Say I Love You In Any Language
Love Potions, Charms & Spells
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Added: January 26, 1999.