6 February 2010

The Origins of Valentine's Day

It would appear the ancient Romans have a lot to answer for when it comes to Valentine’s Day and its origins.

Back then [approx AD 270] it had nothing to do with romance, love and marriage, but everything to do with Emperor Claudius II need to acquire more soldiers for his armies quickly to fight in his many and unpopular battles. Claudius the Cruel, as he is known, believed that the reason was that roman men did not want to leave their loves or families, so he simply banned marriage and engagements in Rome.

In defiance of the proclamation Valentine and Marius secretly married couples. When his actions were discovered, Valentine was apprehended and dragged before Prefect of Rome who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs. According to history this sentence was carried out on February 14th.

Valentine seems to be an unfortunate name to carry when confronting authority for records show there are three different saints called Valentine, and the were all martyred for their beliefs.

So how on earth did something we celebrate as the symbol of love and romance develop from such macabre origins?

The pastors of the early Christian Church in Rome endeavoured to do away with the pagan element in these feasts by substituting the names of saints for those of maidens. And as the Lupercalia began about the middle of February, the pastors appear to have chosen Saint Valentine's Day for the celebration of this new feast. So it seems that the custom of young men choosing maidens for valentines, or saints as patrons for the coming year, arose in this way.

In ancient Rome, 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 at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the strips of goat hide.

Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because they believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D.

All I can say is that I’m glad I wasn’t around then!! Give me flowers anytime.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Please tell us what is your most treasured Valentine Day’s memory? And what is your funniest?


Bliss Addison said...

I'm with you on that, Sherry. I'm glad I wasn't around then either! Can you imagine being paired for a year with a man who picked your name from a big urn (hat)? LOL
Ta, Bliss

Sherry Gloag said...

Thanks for coming by, Bliss. Every era has its drawbacks and its advatages, it seems. :-)