Valentine’s Day tradition tells us that February 14 is a day to celebrate the one you love with gifts, candlelit dinners, and amazing make-out sessions. Yet the day’s current amorous connotations bear little resemblance to the rather tragic story of the man whose life it celebrates, Saint Valentine.
As is often the case with people who lived more than a thousand years ago, much of the information we have today about the life of Saint Valentine is of the vague and ambiguous variety.
According to History.com, there are several different men named Valentine that the Catholic church acknowledges may have inspired the holiday.
The most popular narrative is that of a third century Roman priest named Valentine who served during the reign of Emperor Claudius. The emperor believed that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, saintly creature that he was, found the rule unfair, and secretly continued to marry young couples. Eventually the poor priest was caught and sentenced to death in 269 AD, by beating, stoning and decapitation.
We may also be celebrating the life of another Valentine, a man who was killed for helping Christians escape the horrific conditions of Roman prisons. Legend says that this Valentine sent a romantic greeting to a young girl he was in love with while he was in prison. The letter was signed “from your Valentine.”
The fact that Valentine’s Day celebrates either the birth or death of Saint Valentine is something most of us likely take for granted, and yet many historians believe that we mark the day in mid-February because the Christian Church needed something to replace the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, which fell the day after Valentine's Day.
The February 15 holiday was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. National Geographic reports that Pagan worship was a no-go as far as the Christian Church was concerned, and Valentine’s Day, with it’s sentiment of love and union, made a handy replacement.
So when you sit down across a candlelit table from Mr. or Mrs. Right this evening, keep in mind the tales of Pagan worship, prison time and decapitation to which we owe this special day.