Valentine’s Day

The history of Valentine’s Day, which lovers always celebrate on 14 February, is somewhat of a mystery. Who was St. Valentine? What is known is that the Catholic Church recognizes three different St. Valentines, all of whom were martyred. One theory is that Valentine was a priest in Rome in the third century at the time when Emperor Claudius II banned young men from getting married. He considered that unmarried men made better soldiers. Valentine ignored this decree and performed marriages in secret. On discovering this, the emperor had him executed. Another theory suggests that Valentine may have been slain for helping Christians to escape the gruesome Roman prisons where they were persecuted. Legend has it that before his execution, Valentine sent a letter signed “From your Valentine” to a young girl who visited him in prison and with whom he fell in love. True or false, by the Middle Ages these tales of a romantic hero made St. Valentine a star among saints in France and England. It is also unclear why Valentine’s Day falls on 14 February. Is it the anniversary of Valentine’s death? Did the Christian Church decide upon a Valentine’s Feast in mid-February to counter the pagan Lupercalia Festival? In the Middle Ages there was also a romantic notion in England and France that the date was the start of the birds’ mating season.

Written Valentine greetings began to appear in the early 1400s. The British Library in London is the keeper of the oldest known Valentine’s message in existence. This is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife during his captivity in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Today Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many parts of the world, a tradition which is on the increase thanks to globalization. The number of Valentine’s cards sent in the USA alone is estimated to be over one billion each year.

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