From Beheading to Chocolates - the Very Confusing and Condensed Origins of Valentines Day
Updated: Mar 16, 2021
As a chubby goth girl, Valentines day was never a very happy day for me growing up. While girls at my school would get flowers delivered to the classroom, I would go home (often hiding tears) as the loneliness of my single-dom was unescapable. So imagine my dark hearted happiness when I learned of the very confusing, somewhat historically assumed and gruesome origins of Valentines Day.
Ladies and gentleman, it is time to pour a glass of wine, settle in and talk about the very, VERY bloody history of Valentines Day.
I would like to preface this by saying some of this is legend, and most of the early history is brought to us by Bollandists whom are scholars that have taken on the task of creating the “Acta Sanctorum” or “Lives of the Saints” which is now an impressive 68 page folio that was started in 1643. HOLY CRAP, right?!
Now; let’s get into it.
The first St. Valentines (or Valentinus) martyrs happened during the reign of Roman Emperor Gothicus in 269-270 AD…or at least the ones we (sort of) know about. There is rumor that the first one died in Africa along with 24 soldiers but this is speculation and can not be confirmed. Keep in mind at this time Italy was not yet a Christian country and the majority of the people were still Pagan and many, MANY Christians were still being persecuted.
So our first Valentini is priest and is arrested for being, well, Christian and is put into custody by an aristocrat named Asterius. Long story short - priest man won’t stop blabbing about how Jesus led Pagans (which Asterius was) out of the shadows and into Christianity’s warm open arms….or something like that. Probably annoyed, Asterius makes a wager with the priest and says if he can cure his step daughters blindness, he would convert. The priest takes the wager, prays over the girl and VOILA! The girl could see and Asterius and his family were all baptized…..BUT DON’T GET EXCITED. Asterius may have changed religious parties but you know who didn’t? Emperor Gothicus who had EVERYONE executed….oh but Valentinus was to be beheaded.
This now leads to one of the most precarious parts of the Valentines legend; peoples obsession with stealing parts of the martyred saints body to be re-buried in their churches or put on display. Such is the case with this homeboy who’s body was taken by a widow and reburied at the site of his execution. There is now a chapel built around these remains.
There is another story, almost identical to this one that takes place in Umbria, Italy instead of Rimini, Italy. Because of this scholars believe they could actually be the same man, just different legends told in different cities so I will spare you all the details the highlights are; arrest, conversion, execution, body snatching.
I would also like to point out that many different churches around Europe claim to have bones or skulls of St. Valentines. Over the years people have believed the bones brought special powers, good luck and could even possibly cure demonic possession but nothing about libido or love. Sorry folks.
I know I know, WHERE DOES THE LOVE PART COME IN MALIA? Well…it doesn’t. February 14th is really only known because of the supposed multiple martyrs of different St. Valentines. The only thing Valentine has ever POSSIBLY been linked to love by, was the helping of exchange notes between imprisoned Christian lovers….but this is not confirmed so we can’t even rely on THAT.
So let’s jump ahead…waaaay ahead to a possible love connection thanks to the author Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote “The Canterbury Tales” in which he talks about how the February feast of St. Valentines coincides with the mating of the birds. Because of this, Englishmen started writing love notes to their desired during bird mating season which was mid February. What else is in mid February? February 14th aka the day St. Valentine was killed. This turned into people referring to their love interest as their “Valentine” and soon card companies were making it A LOT easier by selling love cards during mid-February.
Before you know it, it’s 2019 and Valentines Day is officially on the DEATH DATE of St. Valentines and every card company, flower shop and chocolate company cashes in on a very made up, very historically skewed day of what was originally, mourning.
Before I end this very lighthearted post, I would like to leave you with one other possible explanation for the “romantic” element of Valentines day. Roman Pagans had a celebration called Lupercalia that took place in mid February. It was a pretty intense festival where men would run through the streets naked and pregnant women believed this helped bring them healthy babies. Then, like all Pagan celebrations; the Catholics denounced the festival and made it illegal. However, one must wonder if instead of getting rid of it all together, they did what they did with Saturnalia (see my episode about that here) and just changed it to fit their guidelines. Instead of naked men running in the streets promoting fertility and health, how about little love cherubs who do the same thing………something to think about Creeps.