With Valentine’s day just around the corner, we thought we would share with you our fantastic selection of Valentine’s day gifts for Him and Her, which you can find by clicking here.
We also thought it would be interesting to delve into the history and myth surrounding St. Valentine’s day, and explore the man who (supposedly) started off the romantic traditions of the 14th February. So, if your sitting comfortably, let’s begin!
The history of Valentine’s day, and the myths surrounding its patron saint, are cloaked with mystery. However, we do know that St. Valentine’s day – as we know it today – contains vestiges of both the early Christian and Pagan traditions. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this most romantic of feast days?
We’ll start with the Christian tradition. The Catholic Church has canonised at least three different ‘Valentines’ in its history, (all of whom were martyred) which makes finding out the real Valentine even harder! However, one of the stories surrounding the Valentine tradition as we know it today states that St. Valentine was a Roman Priest under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, and that he refused to obey the Emperor’s decree that young men should not be married (supposedly single men made better soldiers) as he could see the plain injustice in this order. Thus St. Valentine was martyred for performing covert marriages for young lovers, and beginning a longstanding romantic tradition.
Another myth suggests that St. Valentine may have been arrested and martyred for helping early Christians escape from foul Roman prisons. The story has it that when Valentine himself was eventually imprisoned, he sent the world’s first Valentine’s card to a young girl (supposedly his gaoler’s daughter) who came to visit him in prison. Whatever the real story is, the Christian tradition of St. Valentine points to a heroic and romantic figure, qualities which led to St. Valentine becoming one of the most popular Saints in England and France by the middle ages.
So that’s the Christian tradition – what about the Pagan? While some historians believe Valentine’s day is celebrated in mid-February to remember that death of St. Valentine, (which probably occurred around 270 AD) others suggest that the Catholic Church may have placed St. Valentines feast day in February to claim the Pagan festival of Lupercalia for Christianity. Celebrated on the ides (15th) of February, Lupercalia was a festival of fertility dedicated to Faunus – the Roman god of agriculture – as well as the founders of Rome Romulus and Remus.
During the festival, members of the Luperci (an order of Roman priests) would gather around the sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were supposedly raised my a lupa (a female wolf). The Priests would then sacrifice a goat and a dog, cut the goat hide into strips and dip them in the sacrificial blood. They would then take to the streets wiping the bloodied strips on local women and crop fields, to improve fertility in the coming year. The romantic aspect of this festival concerns a tradition where all of the young women of the town would place their names in a vast urn, which in turn were picked out by the town’s bachelors. The man would then spend the year paired with the woman he picked out of the urn, which often led to marriage.
Somewhat surprisingly, the festival of Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Chrisitianity, however it was eventually outlawed (at least by name) at the end of the 5th century by Pope Gelasius, who decreed that the 14th of February was now the feast day of St. Valentine.
It wasn’t until the Middle Ages however that exchanging Valentine’s greetings replaced the traditional Lupercalia-esque traditions, and written Valentine’s notes didn’t appear until the 15th century. The oldest Valentine’s note still in existence (dated 1415) can be found in the British museum and is a poem written by the French Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was locked in the Tower following capture at Agincourt, and the English King Henry V is supposed to have commissioned a Valentine’s note to Catherine of Valois a few years later.
Celebrating St. Valentine’s day by exchanging gifts and cards gained mass global popularity around the 17th century with the growth of British influence, and by the 18th century it was commonplace for lovers from every echelon of society to exchange gifts on the 14th February. Two centuries later printed cards had widely replace hand-written letters, and were popular as a convenient way of expressing affection in a society in which direct expressions of emotion were generally discouraged.
Which brings us to the present day, where, according to the Greetings Card association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s cards are sent every year, the second largest card-sending festival behind Christmas. (where an astonishing 2.6 billion cards are sent!) Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, women send approximately 85% of all Valentine’s cards!
So, if you want to honour this age-old tradition, why not have a look at our gorgeous selection of Valentine’s day gifts?
Based on information sourced from www.history.com