The holiday started as a feast come celebrate the decapitation that a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So exactly how did it become all about love?


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Relics that St. Valentine that Terni at the basilica that Saint mary in Cosmedin Dnalor 01 (Own work), CC BY-SA

On Feb. 14, sweethearts of all ages will exchange cards, flowers, candy, and much more lavish presents in the name of St. Valentine. But as a historian the Christianity, I have the right to tell you the at the root of our modern-day holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine to be no lover or patron the love.

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Valentine’s Day, in fact, originated together a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or maybe two. So, just how did we gain from beheading to betrothing on Valentine’s Day?

Early origins of St. Valentine

Ancient sources reveal that there were numerous St. Valentines who died on Feb. 14. Two of them to be executed throughout the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., in ~ a time once persecution of Christians was common.

How perform we know this? Because, an stimulate of Belgian monks invested three century collecting evidence for the lives of saints native manuscript archives roughly the recognized world.

They to be called Bollandists after Jean Bolland, a Jesuit scholar who started publishing the huge 68-folio volumes of “Acta Sanctorum,” or “Lives that the Saints,” beginning in 1643.

Since then, successive generations that monks continued the work until the critical volume was published in 1940. The brother dug up every scrap that information around every saint ~ above the liturgical calendar and also printed the messages arranged according to the saint’s feast day.

The Valentine martyrs

The volume encompassing Feb. 14 includes the stories of a handful of “Valentini,” including the earliest three of whom died in the 3rd century.

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St. Valentine blessing an epileptic Wellcome Images, CC through

The more quickly Valentinus is said to have died in Africa, together with 24 soldiers. Unfortunately, even the Bollandists might not discover any more information around him. As the monks knew, sometimes all the the saints left behind was a name and day that death.

We understand only a little more about the various other two Valentines.

According come a late medieval legend reprinted in the “Acta,” which was accompanied by Bollandist critique about its historic value, a roman priest called Valentinus to be arrested during the reign of Emperor Gothicus and also put right into the custody of one aristocrat named Asterius.

As the story goes, Asterius make the mistake of letting the preacher talk. Dad Valentinus went on and also on about Christ top pagans out that the shadow of darkness and also into the light of truth and salvation. Asterius made a bargain v Valentinus: If the Christian might cure Asterius’s foster-daughter of blindness, he would certainly convert. Valentinus put his hands over the girl’s eyes and chanted:

“Lord Jesus Christ, en-lighten her handmaid, since you space God, the True Light.”

Easy together that. The child could see, according to the middle ages legend. Asterius and his totality family to be baptized. Unfortunately, once Emperor Gothicus heard the news, he ordered them all to be executed. However Valentinus to be the just one to it is in beheaded. A pious widow, though, do off with his body and had it hidden at the site of his martyrdom ~ above the Via Flaminia, the old highway extending from Rome to contemporary Rimini. Later, a chapel was built over the saint’s remains.

St. Valentine was not a romantic

The 3rd third-century Valentinus to be a bishop that Terni in the province of Umbria, Italy.

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St. Valentine kneeling David Teniers III

According come his equally dodgy legend, Terni’s bishop acquired into a situation like the other Valentinus by debating a potential convert and also afterward heal his son. The remainder of story is quite comparable as well: that too, to be beheaded top top the orders that Emperor Gothicus and his body buried along the Via Flaminia.

It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, the there weren’t actually two decapitated Valentines, yet that two different versions the one saint’s legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.

Nonetheless, African, roman inn or Umbrian, nobody of the Valentines appears to have been a romantic.

Indeed, medieval legends, recurring in contemporary media, had actually St. Valentine performing Christian marriage rituals or pass notes in between Christian lovers jailed by Gothicus. Still various other stories romantically connected him with the blind girl who he allegedly healed. However none of these medieval tales had any type of basis in third-century history, as the Bollandists spicy out.

St. Valentine baptizing St. Lucilla Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte)

In any case, historical veracity did not count for lot with middle ages Christians. What castle cared about were story of miracles and martyrdoms, and also the physical remains or relics of the saint. To it is in sure, countless different churches and also monasteries around medieval Europe claimed to have actually bits of a St. Valentinus’ skull in their treasuries.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, for example, still displays a whole skull. According to the Bollandists, other churches throughout Europe additionally claim to very own slivers and also bits of one or the other St. Valentinus’ body: because that example, san Anton Church in Madrid, Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, the Church that Sts. Peter and Paul in Prague, Saint Mary’s presumption in Chelmno, Poland, and churches in Malta, Birmingham, Glasgow, and on the Greek isle that Lesbos, among others.

For believers, relics that the martyrs signified the saints’ continuing their invisible presence among communities that pious Christians. In 11th-century Brittany, for instance, one bishop used what was purported to be Valentine’s head to halt fires, avoid epidemics, and cure every sorts of illnesses, consisting of demonic possession.

As much as we know, though, the saint’s bones did nothing special for lovers.

Unlikely pagan origins

Many scholars have actually deconstructed Valentine and also his work in books, articles and blog postings. Some suggest that the modern holiday is a Christian cover-up of the much more ancient roman inn celebration of Lupercalia in mid-February.

Lupercalia originated together a routine in a rural woman cult including the sacrifice that goats and dogs and evolved later right into an urban carnival. Throughout the festivities half-naked young males ran through the roads of Rome, streaking civilization with thongs reduced from the skin of newly killed goats. Pregnant women assumed it brought them healthy babies. In 496 A.D., however, Pope Gelasius supposedly denounced the rowdy festival.

Still, there is no evidence that the pope intentionally replaced Lupercalia through the more sedate cult the the martyred St. Valentine or any other Christian celebration.

Chaucer and the love birds

The love connection probably appeared an ext than a thousand year after the martyrs’ death, when Geoffrey Chaucer, writer of “The Canterbury Tales” decreed the February feast the St. Valentinus to the adjustment of birds. He wrote in his “Parlement that Foules”:

“For this to be on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

It seems that, in Chaucer’s day, English bird paired off to develop eggs in February. Soon, nature-minded european nobility began sending love notes during bird-mating season. For example, the French fight it out of Orléans, who spent some years together a prisoner in the Tower of London, wrote to his mam in February 1415 that he to be “already ailing of love” (by i m sorry he meant lovesick.) and he referred to as her his “very tenderness Valentine.”

English audiences embraced the idea the February mating. Shakespeare’s lovestruck Ophelia speak of it s her as Hamlet’s Valentine.

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In the complying with centuries, Englishmen and also women started using Feb. 14 together an excuse to pen verses to your love objects. Industrialization do it less complicated with mass-produced illustrated cards adorned with smarmy poetry. Climate along came Cadbury, Hershey’s, and other chocolate manufacturers marketing sweets for one’s sweetheart ~ above Valentine’s Day.