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Valentine's Day: How did it originate?

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By Gene Linzey

The Catholic Church originally recognized 10 or 11 Valentines (some of them Bishops), although several of them could have been the same person.Eight hundred years before the establishment of Valentine’s Day, the Romans had practiced a pagan celebration in mid-February commemorating young men’s growth to maturity. The celebration required men to draw the names of young girls from a box. The girl whose name was drawn was then assigned to the young man as his companion during that year.Attempting to do away with paganism and immorality, Pope Gelasius ordered a change. Instead of the names of women in the box, he had the names of saints inserted. Now, both men and women were required to draw names, and the idea was to study about the saint and to emulate his or her life for the rest of the year. Needless to say, these changes were not well appreciated.Also, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which began on Feb. 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. (This fertility festival was definitely not Jewish or Christian in nature.)But the following is probably the basic story from which we get our current Valentine’s Day tradition.Traditionally, mid-February was a time in old Roman days to meet and court prospective mates. The young men had a custom of purifying themselves, and looking for future wives on Feb. 14-15. The name February comes from the word “februarious,” which means, “to purify,” or “time of purification.”In 270 A.D. Emperor Claudius II issued an order which forbade young men from marrying because he believed that married men, who did not want to leave their families to go to battle, made poor soldiers. Valentinus, the young Bishop of Interamna, disagreed with the emperor, and invited young couples to visit him in secret to be married. When Emperor Claudius discovered what was happening, he was incensed. He ordered Valentinus arrested and brought before him. Claudius personally interrogated Valentinus. But when Bishop Valentinus, who came to be known as Bishop Valentine, refused to change his views on marriage, and renounce Christianity, he was imprisoned to await execution.Tradition tells us that while Valentine was in prison, he corresponded with those under his care by sending letters and notes of encouragement to those in his parish. Also, children and the couples whom he married would come by and throw notes of encouragement and love to him.It is also believed that while he was in prison, the Bishop met Asterius, the blind daughter of the jailer, and that God miraculously restored her sight when Valentine prayed for her.The girl, who could now see, fell in love with the young Bishop. But even though she was the jailer’s daughter, she could not save him from the Emperor’s murderous decree. Valentine was put to death on Feb. 14.But tradition tells us that on the eve of his execution, he wrote a farewell message to Asterius, which contained a closing that transcended all time: “From Your Valentine.” This was probably the first “Valentine Card” ever written.In the year 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared Bishop Valentine a saint, and declared Feb. 14 to be forever, “Saint Valentine’s Day.” And we refer to the day simply as “Valentine’s Day.”Although the pagan ritual had been banned by the church, the mid-February holiday in commemoration of St. Valentine was still used by Roman men, and men down through the ages, to seek the affection of women.It became a tradition for the men to give the ones they admired handwritten messages of affection, containing Valentine’s name. Cards came into popularity in the late 1800s.Valentine’s Day: The origin appears to be based on the Love of Christ, through a young, compassionate pastor named Valentine.