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

West Kelowna reopens beach volleyball, new pickleball courts

The City of West Kelowna is asking residents to maintain safe distancing

RDCO announces spring poetry contest winners

The district received 70 poems starting from May 1

Mother duck and babies rescued from Highway 97 in Lake Country

The mother and nine ducklings were taken to Duck Lake

Kelowna RCMP pull over vehicle with no licence plate, find drugs inside

Officers also responded to a white van in the West Kelowna Walmart parking lot with no insurance

Vehicle brings down light post on Westside Road Thursday evening

Incident occurred at the intersection of Westside Rd. and Seena Rd. at 7:50 p.m.

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Parts of the TCT through Princeton will open to motorized vehicles Monday

Parts of the KVR trail through Princeton will open for motorized vehicles… Continue reading

Partial return to class for Central Okanagan students: COVID-19

School District 23 and the Board of Education have released a letter regarding returning to class

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

Condition in kids with possible COVID-19 link being studied in Canada

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to doctors about MIS-C

North Okanagan farmers’ markets excited to welcome artisans back amid COVID-19

Provincial health officer announced non-food items to return to markets this weekend

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Chef brings farm-to-table approach to new Shuswap restaurant

Darren Bezanson opening Bistro 1460 at Hilltop Inn

Most Read