For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.

~ Parliament of Foules, Chaucer

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On this ever-popular day of “love,” it’s nice to remember that there was a real person behind all the hearts and flowers: St. Valentine. 

My mom always told me that Valentine was arrested by the Romans, and sentenced to be thrown to the lions. While he was in jail, he wanted to get a message out to his people, but all he could get was a piece of something to write on, without anything to write with. So he cut his hand and let some of the blood fall onto the paper, which he folded in two, and when he unfolded the paper he revealed the shape of a heart, which was the first Valentine ever sent.

There are several versions of this infamous story, but who was St. Valentine, really?

According to history.com, one legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. (What a jerk, no?)

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured. (ek, I’m studying Latin now, but this makes the Romans look like…not nice people)

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine’ greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed ‘From your Valentine,’ an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It’s no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to ‘christianize’ celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

So, overall, there were likely three different possible St. Valentines, all matyrs, which, to some people, probably seems like a good match for the holiday. Then there’s the festival connection, to pairing birds and such (hence the Chaucer quote). But whether you have someone to hang out with today or not, and remember you can always hang out with yourself, I hope you enjoy this lovely, sunny day! (Plus, you can always use today as an excuse to eat excessive amounts of chocolate. Yum)

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P.S. even though Valentine’s day is one of the worst reviewed movies that I’ve seen in awhile (something like 15% on Rottentomatoes.com) is it wrong that I still kind of want to see it? If I like it though, what does that make me?….

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