The Good Saint Valentine

A Brief History of Valentine's Day

In the city of Rome there once lived an emperor named Claudius. He is known in history as Claudius the Cruel.

Near his palace was a beautiful temple where served the priest Valentine. The Romans loved him dearly and assembled into the temple to hear his words. Before the fire that always burned on the altar they knelt to ask his blessing. Rich and poor, wise and ignorant, old and young, noble and common people they all flocked to Valentine.

In the Roman empire wars broke out. Claudius summoned the citizens forth to battle and year after year the fighting continued. Many of the Romans were unwilling to go. The married men did not want to leave their families. The younger men did not wish to leave their sweethearts. The emperor was angry when soldiers were too few. He ordered that no marriages should be celebrated and that all engagements must be broken off immediately.

Many a young Roman went off to the wars in sorrow, leaving his love. Many a Roman maiden died of grief as a result of this decree.

Now the good priest Valentine heard of the emperor's command and was very sad. When a young couple came to the temple, he secretly united them in marriage in front of the sacred altar. Another pair sought his aid and in secret he wedded them. Others came and quietly were married. Valentine was the friend of lovers in every district of Rome.

But, such secrets could not be kept for long. At last word of Valentine's acts reached the palace and Claudius the Cruel was angry, exceedingly angry. He summoned his soldiers. "Go! Take that priest in the temple! Cast him into a dungeon! No man in Rome, priest or not, shall disobey my commands!"

Valentine was dragged from the temple, dragged away from the altar where a young maiden and a Roman youth stood, ready to wed. Off to prison the soldiers took him.

All of Valentine's friends as well as their friends, interceded with Claudius in vane. Well was he named Claudius the Cruel. In a dungeon Valentine languished and died. His devoted friends buried him in the church of St. Praxedes. When you go to Rome you can see the very place. It was the year 270, on the fourteenth of February.

Another story says that Valentine was one of the early Christians in those far-away days when that meant danger and death. For helping some Christian martyrs he was seized, dragged before the prefect of Rome and cast into jail. There he cured the keeper's daughter of blindness. When the cruel emperor learned of this miracle he gave orders that Valentine should be beheaded. The morning of the execution, he is said to have sent the keeper's daughter a farewell message signed, "From your Valentine."

Long years before 270, when Rome was first founded it was surrounded by a wilderness. Great packs of wolves roamed over the countryside. Among their many gods the Romans had one named Lupercus who watched over the shepherds and their flocks. In his honor they held a great feast in February of each year and called it the Lupercalia. The Lupercalia festival was an echo of the days when Rome consisted of a group of shepherd folk that lived on a hill now know as Palantine. On the calendar used back in those days, February came later than it does today, so Lupercalia was a spring festival.

Some believe the festival honored Faunus, who like the Greek Pan, was a god of herds and crops, But the origin of Lupercalia is so ancient that even scholars of the last century before Christ were never sure.

There is no question about its importance. Records show, for instance, that Mark Antony, an important Roman, was master of the Luperci College of Priests. He chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44 B.C. as the proper time for offering the crown to Julius Caesar.

Each year, on February 15, the Luperci priests gathered on the Palantine at the cave of Lupercal. Here, according to legend, Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, had been nursed by a mother wolf. In Latin, the word lupus is the word for wolf.

Some of the rituals involved youths of noble birth to run through the streets with goatskin thongs. Young women would crowd the street in the hope of lashing the sacred thongs as it was believed to make them better able to bear children. The goatskin thongs were known as the februa and the lashing the februatio, both coming from a Latin word meaning to purify. The name of the month February come from this meaning.

Long after Rome became a walled city and the seat of a powerful empire, the Lupercalia lived on. When Roman armies invaded what is now France and Britain in the first century before Christ, they took the Lupercalia customs there. One of these is believed to be a lottery where the names of Roman maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. The girl whose name he drew each man accepted as his love - for a year or longer.

After Christianity was firmly established the priests wanted the people to forget the old heathen gods. But they did not wish to do away with all their feasts and sports. So they kept the Lupercalia and called it Valentine's day.

During the medieval days of chivalry, the names of English maidens and bachelors were put into the box and drawn out in pairs. Each couple exchanged gifts. The girl became the man's valentine for that year. On his sleeve he wore her name and it was his bounded duty to attend and protect her.

This old, old custom of drawing names on the fourteenth of February was considered a good omen for love. It often foretold a wedding. For since the beginning of things this has been lovers' day, a time for loving, for giving and receiving love tokens.

History tells us the first modern valentines date from the early years of the fifteenth century. The young French duke of Orleans, captured at the battle of Agincourt, was kept a prisoner in the Tower of London for many years. To his wife he wrote poem after poem, real valentines. About sixty of them remain. These can be seen among the royal papers in the British Museum.

Flowers as valentines appear nearly two hundred years later. A daughter of Henry IV of France gave a party in honor of St. Valentine. Each lady received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from the man chosen as her valentine.

Thus from Italy and France and England has come the pretty custom of sending our friends loving messages on this day. With flowers, with heart-shaped candies, with lacy valentines whose frills and furbelows hide the initials of the sender we honor the good priest who disobeyed Claudius the Cruel.

Bibliography

American Holidays and Special Days, George and Virginia Schaun, 1986

The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over, Marguerite Ickis, 1970

Stories of The World's Holidays, Grace Humphrey, 1924, Reprinted 1990

Hearts, Cupids and Red Roses, The Story of the Valentines Symbols, Edna Barth, 1974

The Valentine & Its Origins, Frank Staff, 1969


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