Collecting Valentines — The Language of Love Part Two

posted by Karen Hood
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

by Nancy Rosin
Source: The Ephemera Society of America

Elaborate Paper-cut, American, ca. 1825.

2. The Origin of Saint Valentine’s Day
To do this briefly is a challenge! The early history of St. Valentine’s Day has two separate aspects, and there are several versions of the origin of the holiday. The generally accepted story states that during the reign of the Emperor Claudius II, there was a Priest in Rome who befriended young couples, and encouraged them to marry. This infuriated the Emperor, who felt that a married soldier would not give his primary allegiance to him, but to his wife! The Priest, Valentinus, was ordered to cease these actions, but he persisted in ministering to the young lovers, and even attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity! Angered at this, the Emperor sentenced Valentinus to be beheaded. While awaiting his execution, it is said that he befriended the blind daughter of the jailer, and even restored her sight. It is also written that on the eve of his execution, he wrote a note to this young girl, which he simply signed, “Your Valentine” — and that, in the year 276 AD, is believed to have been the very first Valentine!

In that early era in Rome, there existed many popular Pagan customs, celebrated at festivals such as The Feast of Lupercalia — basically “the rites of spring”. During the celebration, “lots” were drawn from an urn on a sacred altar of love, and the selected name would be the lover, or partner for the year. Because there was feasting, dancing and raucous merrymaking, it was an exceptionally popular festival. When the Romans occupied Britain, they carried their Pagan customs with them — including this popular Feast of Lupercalia. As Christianity began to take hold in England, a great effort was made to banish these customs. This festival occurred at the same time of year as the martyrdom of the patron of lovers, Valentinus, and since it would have been very difficult to ban such a popular feast, the name was changed to honor that Saint. Thus, Saint Valentine’s Day became the reinvention of this old Pagan holiday!


This is a five-part article. Stay tuned during the rest of the week for the continuation. Tomorrow: The History and Evolution of the Valentine. In the meantime, if you’re looking for great Valentine’s Day gifts, check out Karen’s Collectors Cottage!

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