The History of Valentine’s Day

300-redBy Zeenat Kassam Mitha –

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the beautiful celebration of love observed on February 14th? When we present our loved ones with cards, chocolates, flowers and gifts and plan special dinners, do you ever think about how Valentine’s Day began and why? What did it represent then, and how did it become a day celebrating love around the world?   

Saint Valentine of Rome is commonly associated with “courtly love” and celebrated on February 14th. Although not much of St. Valentine’s life is reliably known, it is greatly accepted that St. Valentine was a 3rd century martyr and buried on the Via Flaminia to the north of Rome.

The legends accredited to St. Valentine vary, but most traditions share that in one stage of his existence, he was the former Bishop of Terni, Narnia and Amelia and was on house arrest with Judge Asterius due to discussions of faith and religion. St. Valentine pledged the validity of Jesus, and the judge instantly put Valentine and his faith to the test. The judge had a blind daughter, and he asked St. Valentine to restore her sight. It is said the judge vowed to do anything for Valentine if he succeeded. Placing his hands onto her eyes, St. Valentine restored the child’s vision. Judge Asterius graciously followed Valentine’s requests after that. Judge Asterius was baptized, he destroyed the idols around his house, and he fasted for three days with his entire 44 member household. The judge also freed all of his Christian inmates.

St. Valentine was arrested again for proselytizing and was led to Rome under the emperor Claudius Gothicus. What storytellers relay is that St. Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and aiding Christians being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. These were both reflected as serious crimes. A bond between the saint and emperor began to flourish until Valentine attempted to convince Claudius of Christianity. Claudius was furious and sentenced Valentine to death, demanding him to renounce his faith. Because he refused, St. Valentine lost his life outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14, 269.

It is said that Pope Julius I built a church near Ponte Mole in his memory, which gave name to the gate now called Porta del Popolo, formerly, Porta Valetini. In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from the General Roman Calendar, as very little was known about him. However, the church still acknowledges him as a saint, citing him in the February 14th slot of Roman martyrolgy.

St. Valentine is seen as the patron saint of affianced couples, engaged couples, happy marriages, love, lovers, young people, greetings, bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, plague and travelers. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses, and his feast day is celebrated on February 14th. St. Valentine’s Feast Day was the same as the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. In Roman mythology, Lupercus is the god of shepherds. His festival was celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple on February 15th. St. Valentine’s Day is an association of the two and represents a day of love – just like it is today, as sweethearts show their love and devotion for one another with heartfelt gifts.

Wishing all of you around the Bend a very loving and treasured Valentine’s Day!

Cupid’s Arrow: A Valentine’s Day Symbol

200-heartIn classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, attraction and affection. Often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars, Cupid is contemporarily shown as a winged cherub drawing his bow to inspire romantic love, often as an icon of Valentine’s Day.

Cupid carries two kinds of arrows: one with a sharp golden point and the other with a blunt tip of lead. A person wounded by the golden arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire, but the one struck by the lead feels aversion and desires only to flee. The use of these arrows is described in works such as the Latin poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the 15th century poem The Kingis Quair attributed to James I of Scotland.