The History of St. Valentine's Day
By: Emily Allison Email
By: Emily Allison Email

The holiday is named after two Christian martyrs, both named Valentine. The day became linked with ‘love’, when the custom of ‘courting’ flourished.

On this day, the exchange of ‘love notes’, also known as ‘Valentines’ is the most common practice, among other things.

Since the 19th century, handwritten notes were most commonly exchanged, rather then the modern day greeting card.

In Great Britain, the sending of Valentines was a fashion. Esther Howland developed a successful business in her Worcester, Massachusetts in 1847. He created hand-made Valentine cards based on British models.

As the popularity of the cards grew, so did the commercialization of the holiday, not only in Great Britain, but also in the United States.

The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, which makes Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas.

So Who Was St. Valentine?

There were many early Christian martyrs named Valentine. Until 1969, the Catholic Church formally recognized 11 Valentine's Days.

Valentine of Rome was a priest who suffered martyrdom and was buried on the Via Flaminia. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome, and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.

Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna around AD 197 and is said to have been killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni.

A third saint named Valentine was cited in early martyrologies under the date of February 14th. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.

Now, some sources say the Valentine linked to romance is Valentine of Rome, others say Valentine of Terni, while some scholars have concluded that the two were originally the same person.

Original early medieval biographies did not contain any romantic elements in relation to these martyrs. By the time a Saint Valentine became linked to romance in the 14th century, distinctions between Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni had vanished.

However, according to one myth, Valentine of Rome actually sent the first 'Valentine' greeting. It is believed that while in prison, Valentine fell in love with a young girl, who visited him during his imprisonment.

Allegedly, he wrote her a letter, before his death, which was signed, 'From your Valentine'. As you may recognize, that salutation is still used on Valentines today.

Despite the uncertainty behind the legend of St. Valentine, the stories paint a picture of a man that was kind, heroic, compassionate, and most notably, a romantic. By the Middle Ages, he was one of the most popular saints in Europe.

Some believe Valentine’s Day is to honor and remember the anniversary of Valentine’s death, while others believe Valentine’s Day celebrations began because the Christian church wanted to counter the ‘pagan’ celebration called the Lupercalia festival.

February was the beginning of spring in ancient Rome, and therefore considered a time for cleansing.

Lupercalia, celebrated on February 15th, was a fertility festival devoted to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, along with Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

Declaration of Valentine’s Day

Around 498 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14th St. Valentine's Day.

As a common practice in ancient Rome, arranged marriages were also outlawed at this time, as they were deemed ‘un-Christian’.

In France and England, during the Middle Ages, February 14th was commonly known for the start of birds' mating season. This idea only reiterated that the middle of February should be a day for romance.

Learn More:

  • History.com: History of Valentine's Day
    Watch video from History.com and learn more about the celebration of Valentine's Day, where Cupid comes in, and why the holiday is celebrated in the middle of February.

  • History.com: History of Valentine Cards
    Ever wonder where those sappy love notes derived from? From early renditions dating back to 1806, to the modern day additions, History.com addresses the history of the Valentine.

    Sources:

  • History.com: The History of Valentine's Day

  • Wikipedia: Valentine's Day


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