There really was a person named Valentine who really
became a saint.
As the legend goes, Valentine
was a Roman who was martyred on… yup, you guessed it, February 14, in 269 A.D. The Roman emperor at the time,
who was affectionately nicknamed Claudius the Cruel, reportedly banned all marriages in order to get men to join the military,
reasoning that if the men weren’t married then they would be more willing to join in with his campaigns. Hmmm…
sex or carnage… that’s a tough choice. Valentine, doing his part for the Empire, secretly married couples.
And Claudius, doing his part for the Empire, had Valentine dragged out in the streets, beaten to death with clubs, and then
beheaded. Luckily, that custom wasn’t widely adopted.
Long before Valentine, though, February 14 had been celebrated in honour of Juno, the Roman goddess of
women and marriage, among other things, including fertility. One of the Roman customs on this day, which was then known
as the feast of Lupercalia, was for young girls’ names to be drawn from a jar by young boys, and then they would be
each other’s sexual partners for the following year. Flowers were optional.
In 469 A.D. Pope Gelasius (remember him?) deified Valentine, making him the patron saint
of lovers and finally giving him a first name – Saint. And February 14 was officially set aside in his honour.
Pope Gelasius also sought to make St. Valentine’s day a bit less… fun. He tried to change the custom of
drawing a lover’s name to that of drawing the name of saint that you would then try to emulate over the next year.
And, yes, there is really a patron saint of celibacy, in fact, there are several. Among them are the obvious:
St. Mary and her husband St. Joseph. Then there’s St. John, who has been argued to be superior to Peter since
he never married. Go figure. As well, there is St. Jerome (the patron saint of librarians), who ardently supported
celibacy, and St. Marie Goretti, a fairly recent saint, who chose to die rather than succumb to the advances of a young man.
Suffice it to say, there’s not a whole lot of saints’ names that you could draw that would be anywhere near as
fun as the celebration used to be. Suffice it to say that was a custom that didn’t garner many followers.
The first Valentine was supposedly sent in 1415 from
the Tower of London by the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife. A Miss Esther Howland is credited with
having sent the first Valentine’s card in the United States, sometime in the 1800s, and from there commercialization
took over, as it is wont to do. Over one billion dollars are spent each year by men buying chocolates alone, and Valentine’s
day is decidedly the biggest day of the year for florists. Heck, one website will even sell you a heart shaped Jell-O
mold which is bound to impress even the most reluctant lover.
Cupid, by the way, was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty. Whereas Cupid is now thought
of as a gentle boy who helps bring lovers together, his quiver originally held two different kinds of arrows – silver
tipped arrows that would cause you to fall passionately and desperately in love and lead tipped arrows that would do just
the opposite. Imagine the fun you could have with those babies!