This painting by Leonhard Beck, dating back to 1510, shows St. Valentine, the namesake of St. Valentine’s Day. (Wikimedia Commons)

This painting by Leonhard Beck, dating back to 1510, shows St. Valentine, the namesake of St. Valentine’s Day. (Wikimedia Commons)

Valentine’s Day rooted in Pagan, Roman and Christian traditions

While its namesake is a Christian saint, the day of love has a complex history

The historical roots of Valentine’s Day run deep.

Catholic sources, many of them unreliable, describe the namesake of the occasion as a high-ranking Christian clergy, who administered to persecuted Christians during the later phases of the Roman empire, before its formal adoption of Christianity as state religion on Feb. 27, AD 380.

Before the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, the Roman empire had persecuted Christians as heretics, confiscating their wealth and killing thousands, often in ghastly, public displays, be it as live prey for wild animals during grisly gladiatorial games, or as human torches during public and private festivals.

These persecutions peaked during the third century AD and it was during this period that the later saint lived, worked and eventually died at the hands of the Roman Empire, with Catholic sources identifying Feb. 14 in the year AD 269 as Valentine’s purported day of martyrdom.

RELATED: One day to go: Last-second Valentine’s Day ideas

Some two centuries later, with the Roman Empire having crumbled away, but Christianity firmly established, Pope Gelasius I declared Feb. 14 as the Feast of St. Valentine.

Likely drawing on various myths surrounding St. Valentine’s practice as a clandestine match-maker and marriage official, various customs started to emerge in western Europe. On the eve of the Feast, young single people would gather to write the respective names of their single acquaintances on small papers, which would then go into a large pot, from where they would be drawn lottery style subject to two conditions: the number of men and women would be equal and only opposite-sex pairings would be permitted. The names drawn would then become each other’s valentine.

One important figure in the popular rise of St. Valentine was Geoffrey Chaucer, the English Medieval poet and author, who helped to popularize the notion of courtly love and chivalry, itself an attempt to link the Middle Ages with Christian antiquity.

St. Valentine’s Day today appears as far removed from Chaucer, as Chaucer appeared from St. Valentine himself, and the commercialism surrounding St. Valentine’s Day appears stripped off its Christian antecedents. This complaint, it should be said, is not new. In 1880, the Library of Universal Knowledge describes St. Valentine’s Day as a “considerable nuisance” that “has ceased to possess the graceful symbolic meaning it used to have” in complaining about the excessive presence of romance-themed stationery.

This said, scholars have questioned Christianity’s original appropriation of Feb. 14 as a day of romance, linking the day to Roman traditions pre-dating Christianity, with others linking it to then-prevailing naturalistic religions in western Europe. As the Library of Universal Knowledge put it, northwestern Europeans started to associate this time of the year with romance, because it was around this time that birds started to choose their mates. Hence, it would only be natural for humans to do the same.

It is also important to point out that St. Valentine is the patron saint of people with epilepsy.


Like us on Facebook and follow @wolfgang_depner

wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

Holidays and Seasonal Events

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pen High student Myles made this Little Library in his woodworking class and it now stand in front of West Bench Elementary. (Submitted)
Penticton Secondary student makes Little Library for primary school

The Little Library has been installed in front of West Bench Elementary

The Desert Centre in Osoyoos opened on Saturday for the season. (Contributed)
Osoyoos Desert Centre opens for the season

‘Getting out in nature is one of the most important remedies [during] COVID restrictions.’

The Pencticton Vees beat the Trail Smoke Eaters 7-0 in the second to last game of the season on Saturday. (Pentiction Vees photo)
Penticton Vees play last game of season today at 4 p.m.

The Vees have dominated the league in wins and play the Cranbrook Bucks at 4 p.m.

Book Shop by Michael Law
There’s magic and colourful history at Penticton’s largest and oldest book store

The Book Shop, like so many businesses, is wanting to turn the page to the end of this pandemic

The Oliver Fire Department had to put out a fire on their own training ground, and it wasn’t one they set. (Facebook)
Vehicles torched at Oliver Fire Department training grounds

This suspected arson comes after the cars were vandalized earlier and suspicious fire the night before

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Spallumcheen councillors (from left) Todd York, Gerry Popoff, Christine LeMaire, John Bakker, Joe Van Tienhoven and Andrew Casson join Mayor Christine Fraser (fourth from left) in helping to proclaim the township open for business with new signage off Highway 97A. (Township of Spallumcheen photo)
Being open for business paying dividends for Okanagan township

Spallumcheen wins provincial award, new business and building starts increase

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Salmon Arm Silverbacks forward Mathieu Bourgault (13) tries unsuccessfully to deflect past West Kelowna goalie Johnny Derrick during the Warriors’ come-from-behind 7-6 BC Hockey Leaguje pod shootout victory Saturday, May 8, at Vernon’s Kal Tire Place. (Tami Quan Photography)
West Kelowna Warriors rally to edge Salmon Arm in shootout

Warriors overcome three significant deficits to post 7-6 BCHL pod win in Vernon; Silverbacks finish pod 9-7-2-2

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Most Read