- Holidays and Celebrations»
- Common Holidays
History of St. Valentine's Day
Heart Shapes Are a Symbol of Valentine's Day Love
Cupid as an Infant with Wings Holding on to Venus' Leg
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
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
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
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.