Ah, Valentine’s Day...the day we often treat our beloved to dinner and delight them with chocolates, roses, and teddy bears.
Though millions of people around the world celebrate it every year, how many actually know how Valentine’s Day originated?
This post takes a peek at the man behind the curtain, seeking to better understand why February 14th is so important. Below are five surprising facts about the holiday we commemorate with love.
1. Saint Valentine May Not Just Refer to One Man...But Three
Early martyrologies document three different men named Valentine, all of whom shared February 14th as a feast day and were persecuted for their faith. The first was a physician and a priest in Rome who Emperor Claudius II had beaten and beheaded on February 14th.
The second Valentine was the Bishop of Interamna, a city about 40 miles from Rome. He, too, was arrested, whipped, and beheaded during the reign of Claudius II. We know little about the third Saint Valentine other than that he was martyred in the Roman province of Africa with several companions.
2. VALENTINE DEDICATED HIMSELF TO LOVE AT A TIME WHEN MARRIAGES WERE BANNED
Roman Emperor Claudius II, remembered by some as Claudius the Cruel, struggled to recruit men for the his military. He believed it to be a result of men being too attached to their families and wives. To combat the problem, he banned all marriages. Valentine, believing the decree unjust, starting marrying couples in secret. When these secret marriages were discovered, Claudius II ordered Valentine's death.
3. THE FIRST VALENTINE’S DAY CARD MAY HAVE BEEN WRITTEN FROM A PRISON CELL
Though Valentine’s Day cards are now recognized as sweet ways to express affection, the first might have been written from...a jail cell. After he was imprisoned for marrying couples in secret, legend says that Valentine wrote a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it “Your Valentine.”
4. PERHAPS THE ROOT OF VALENTINE'S DAY LIES IN THE ANCIENT ROMAN FESTIVAL OF LUPERCALIA
There’s no clear story linking the martyr’s name to romance. Some say he was killed around the time of the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love during which men would pick the names of young women out of a box, keeping his “prize” as a companion for a year.
Pope Gelasius ended the Feast in 496 AD, establishing February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day. Gradually, people celebrated the day by exchanging gifts and messages of love.
5. WHERE IS HE NOW? YOU CAN FIND VALENTINE’S SKULL IN ROME
Looking for love in all the wrong places? Try Rome. Today, you can find Valentine’s flower-covered skull on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. In the early 1800s, excavators discovered parts of his skeleton in a Roman catacomb. As it is customary to distribute parts of a late saint’s body to reliquaries around the world, you can also find bits of the skeleton in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Scotland, England and France.
Though folklore surrounds nearly every aspect of St. Valentine’s Day, there is one thing we know for certain: a man named Valentine was martyred on February 14 in the third century A.D.
Today, the holiday has evolved into a celebration of love. In many ways, this makes sense, as many consider Saint Valentine as the patron of love. But is that what is most important?
Perhaps we should think of the day not in terms of love, but of loss. After all, Saint Valentine died for what he believed in.
This year, in addition to expressing love for those who are most important to you, take some time to remember our fallen brothers and those who were persecuted while doing the Lord’s work.