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History of St. Valentine's Day

Updated on June 30, 2013

Heart Shapes Are a Symbol of Valentine's Day Love

The custom of sending Valentine's Day cards and gifts such as candy, chocolates, flowers or jewelry began in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts the first factory made paper lace embossed Valentine's Day cards.
The custom of sending Valentine's Day cards and gifts such as candy, chocolates, flowers or jewelry began in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts the first factory made paper lace embossed Valentine's Day cards. | Source

Cupid as an Infant with Wings Holding on to Venus' Leg

Paolo Veronese's "Mars and Venus United by Love" from the mid-1570s shows Cupid as an infant in the lower left corner. It is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Paolo Veronese's "Mars and Venus United by Love" from the mid-1570s shows Cupid as an infant in the lower left corner. It is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. | Source

Modern Valentine’s Day Celebrates Romantic Love

St. Valentine’s Day (or, simply, Valentine’s Day) falls every year on February 14. While it’s not a bank holiday, it is observed throughout most of the world as a day for sweethearts or lovers, a day celebrating romantic love. The symbols used to represent this romantic love are usually heart or Cupid (the Roman god of love and desire; the son of Venus) shapes. However, this was not always the case. St. Valentine’s Day began as a religious celebration of an early Christian martyr named Valentinus (Valentine in Latin, the language of the Roman Empire), a name that stems from the Latin valens, meaning strong, powerful. It was in 496 A.D. that Pope Gelasius set February 14th as the date commemorating St. Valentine’s martyrdom.

Two (Maybe More) Valentines Are Honored on Valentine’s Day

According to the Catholic Online website, “about eleven other saints having the name Valentine are commemorated in the Roman Catholic Church.” But there were two early Christian martyrs who were later listed on the Catholic Calendar of Saints and given the Feast Day of February 14 because that was the date of their martyrdom (death): Valentine of Rome and Valentine, Bishop of Interamna (modern-day Terni, in the Italian region of Umbria). There was also a third Valentine, who was martyred in Africa along with a few other Christians, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Although several websites state that archaeologists have found a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, at this writing I have not been able to find a scholarly biblical archaeology (or other research) journal or magazine article describing this find. In any case, not much is known about any of the three, other than apocryphal legends.

Skull (Relic) of Saint Valentine of Rome

The skull of St. Valentine of Rome is an important relic, kept at the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
The skull of St. Valentine of Rome is an important relic, kept at the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. | Source
A markerSanta Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy -
Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18, 00186 Rome, Italy
get directions

St. Valentine of Rome

According to Roman Catholic martyrology (an official list of martyrs, saints, and beatified - the first step in becoming a saint is to become beatified - people), Saint Valentine of Rome was one of several known as Valentinus (the Latin for “Valentine”). Not much is actually known about any of the Valentines of this period, which is why St. Valentine is no longer on the list of saints with officially recognized liturgical days (for example, March 19th is officially recognized by the Catholic Church as the day set aside to honor St. Joseph, at Mass and in Catholics’ daily lives; this is the officially recognized liturgical day for Saint Joseph).

According to legend, however, the pagan Roman authorities imprisoned Valentine of Rome because he insisted on celebrating marriages for Roman Legion soldiers even though it was illegal for Roman soldiers to be married. Some sources say that Valentine of Rome's activities (such as marrying Roman soldiers, as described above) were tolerated but that he was finally condemned to death because he tried to convert the Roman Caesar (Emperor), Claudius I, to Christianity. While awaiting execution, St. Valentine of Rome is said to have performed his first miracle: bringing the gift of sight to his jailer's blind daughter, Julia. Before he was executed, the legend says, he sent Julia a note, signing it "From your Valentine."

He was martyred in approximately 269 AD and his remains were buried on the Via Flaminia in Rome. His skull, decorated with flowers, lies in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, also in Rome. Other relics of Valentine of Rome are in Rome's Church of Santa Prassede (St. Praxedes, in English).

Valentine the Bishop of Terni

Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples in the Codex Français 185
Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples in the Codex Français 185 | Source

St. Valentine of Terni

At the very young age of 21, this Valentine was made Bishop of Interamna by Pope Feliciano in 197 AD. Interamna is now modern-day Terni, a city in the southern part of the region of Umbria, on the east coast of Italy. He died on February 14 in 273 AD by order of Placido Furio, the Roman Prefect, during the Christian persecutions ordered by the Emperor Aurelius.Valentine's crime? Replacing the ancient pagan fertility rite known as the Lupercalia with a Christian religious sacrament. His most famous (or infamous, according to the pagan Romans) miracle, among many, was celebrating the marriage between Sabino, a Roman legionnaire (soldier), and a young Christian woman named Serapia, who was seriously ill. Another of his habit's was to give a flower from his garden to those who came to visit him. A true, very happy love sprung between two of his visitors. This union was so happy and so strong that many other lovers soon followed their example, to the point that Saint Valentine, Bishop of Interamna, dedicated one day a year to a general nuptial benediction.

Chocolates Are Always a Treat on Valentine's Day

Chocolate confections have been a traditional Valentine's Day gift since very early days and is still favored in Asia and most of the world.
Chocolate confections have been a traditional Valentine's Day gift since very early days and is still favored in Asia and most of the world. | Source

Valentine's Chocolates, Japanese-Style

In Japan, the gift of choice on Valentine's Day is chocolate. However, there are different kinds of chocolate giving, depending on the importance of the relationship to the giver; socially, the right amount must be given in order to send the right message and not lose face. Also, men do NOT give women anything on February 14th; it is the women who give these special chocolate gifts to the men in their lives.

Honmei-choko: This translates as "favorite chocolate" and is the best-quality chocolate, given by women to their special love, sweetheart or husband on February 14.

Tomo-choko: This means "friend chocolate" and is exchanged between friends (especially girls).

Giri-choko: This means "obligation chocolate" and is given to male co-workers and other male associates of importance.

Cho-giri-choko: Even unpopular co-workers or colleagues receive chocolate on Valentine's Day in Japan; however, these unpopular people only receive the "ultra-obligatory" (as in the "I-don't-want-to-but-I-have-to" kind of gift) very cheap quality, inexpensive chocolate.

Festa della Promessa

Nowadays, Terni, the city that made Saint Valentine, Bishop of Interamna (Terni), its Patron Saint in 1644, still sets one day a year aside to celebrate true love with the Festa della Promessa (Feast, or Festival, of the Promise). On this day, young affianced couples arriving in Terni from the world over exchange a vow of love. Later, married couples celebrating their twenty-fifth or fiftieth wedding anniversaries renew their vows.

Since the mid-1800s, Valentine's Day has become a very lucrative commercial holiday. This commercialization has spawned an anti-Valentine's Day movement.
Since the mid-1800s, Valentine's Day has become a very lucrative commercial holiday. This commercialization has spawned an anti-Valentine's Day movement. | Source

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  • everymom profile image
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    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 3 years ago from Massachusetts

    Thank you for reading & taking the time to comment, etaCarinae!

  • etaCarinae profile image

    Sara Johnson 3 years ago from United States

    Good work and arresting collection of images. I enjoyed perusing this - useful!

  • everymom profile image
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    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    Thank you jabelufiroz and Randi! I am sorry I didn't finish the program, too. I really did try, but, as we have noted in the Apprentice comments, sometimes life just happens and it becomes too crowded. Thanks so much for keeping the eyeglass coupon for me and for all your comments, support and assistance! Please keep giving me your feedback and I will, of course, keep reading your hubs as they are always interesting and well written! How was the end of the program (or is it still running)? Keep well, my friend and colleague!

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    Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

    Wow, I just learned a lot! I guess my ex was right when I used to argue that it is just a "Hallmark" holiday! Oops! Thank you for all the information an explanations. I absolutely love the chocolate buying in Japan! They haveput into words and practice what we are already thinking!

    Thank you for this, up++

    Anahi, I am so sory you didn't finish the program with us. I just wanted to say how much of a peasure it has been getting to know you on hubpages. I hope w will continue to read and enjoy each other's hubs! And, I still have an eyeglass coupon for you!

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    Firoz 4 years ago from India

    Well researched. Voted up.