History of Valentine’s Day

It's world-renowned as the day of love and all things soppy. But where did it come from?

February 14th – Valentine’s Day. A day some fear as they run around buying last-minute gifts for their significant others, while others cringe as they have to scroll through thousands of soppy, romantic posts on social media. Regardless of how you spend the day, I’m sure at some point you must have wondered “wait, where exactly did this tradition come from?” Well, dear reader, just as we went back in time to learn the history of the Advent Calendar, let us rewind the clock to find out the origins of the day of love – Valentine’s Day.


Where it all began

Unfortunately, retelling the origins of Valentine's Day itself is not actually as easy as it seems. The history of it, and the story of its patron saint, St. Valentine, has been shrouded in mystery for many, many years. But that is not to say we know nothing - that would make this article quite boring, wouldn't it?

Valentine's Day, as we know it now, contains vestiges (a.k.a remnants, or traces) of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The holiday has origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, held in mid-February, a festival that commemorated the arrival of Spring. During Lupercalia, it was said that boys would draw girls names out of a box and they would then be partnered for the festival (sometimes even getting married).

However, at the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day. Then, sometime around the 14th Century, it came to be celebrated as a day of romance. That's sort of it in a nutshell, really.

However, if we want to know why that it became known as a day of love, we need to take a deeper look into further into this chap they called 'St. Valentines'...

St. Valentines

To make things even more complicated, there were several Christian martyrs (a.k.a those that voluntarily chose death rather than deny their beliefs) named Valentine or Valentinus that the day could be associated with. 

The first belonged to a priest from 250 CE (Common Era) who, according to legend, signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, healed from blindness before he was martyred by the Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. 

Other accounts hold that the day was actually named after St. Valentine of Terni (a bishop who was also beheaded by Claudius II). The legend behind him states that when the Emperor outlawed marriage for young men, believing that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, St. Valentine of Terni continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Unfortunately, he was quickly discovered and put to death for his defiance of the Roman emperor. However, it was due to his actions that the day is now associated with love. Makes sense, right?

Just to add to the mystery, too, considering the similarily of the stories behind the two saints, it is has been often theorised that these two 'St. Valentines' were actually the same person!

Love is in the air

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends are murky at best, the stories all portray him as a brave, heroic, sympathetic, and–most importantly–romantic figure. Perhaps it's due to this that by the Middle Ages St. Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a date of my own tonight! By that I mean with the fish and chip shop down the road. To order a takeaway for myself.

...to be honest, it's not even a Valentine's Day date - just my usual Friday. No judging!

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Sam Kenealy

Sam is a member of the Students Association staff team.


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