Don’t be mistaken, Saint Valentine’s Day isn’t a modern invention. Its origins are found in the pagan Roman tradition from 400BC, in honour of the god of fertility, Lupercus. The tales differ regarding the content of the worshippers’ ritual. What the tales do agree on is that it took place between the 13th and 15th February every year: the Romans cut the throats of two goats in honour of Lupercus, in order to guarantee fertility and protect their flocks. They baptised a young couple with the goats’ blood, then gave them straps of the same goat’s skin, using these flog women who wanted children to bring them luck? It is not exactly clear.
Another legend leads us to believe that it was a rite of passage to adult age where two young people were married for a year to both become acquainted with the joys of marital life. Incidentally, it is this rite that the Catholic Church seems to have considered unacceptable as it instituted a feast day, the 14th February, in memory of a saint who was martyred for having celebrated love - a certain Saint Valentine. And here is his story…
In the 3rd century AD, Emperor Claudius II had warlike desires which he could not satisfy as many men preferred to stay at home taking care of their wives and children rather than die at war. Claudius’ solution to this was both simple and cruel. He simply decided to annul all marriages. Valentine was well aware that this would bring temptation to men, and he preferred to defy the law and the wrath of the Emperor rather than leave the souls which he took care of to become sinful by loving outside the sanctity of marriage. He began to celebrate marriages in secret places so that the Roman soldiers, who were in charge of making sure the law was upheld, wouldn’t find out. But the Emperor caught wind of this disobedience and Valentine was brought in front of him. He encouraged Valentine to deny his Christian faith and embrace loyalty to the Romans, which he refused to do.
Before being executed, Valentine sent many letters to his friends asking them to pray for him, signing off with the words “Remember your Valentine”. Interestingly this is why the word Valentine is used these days on exchanged cards between lovers.
Valentine was killed on the 14th February, or perhaps on the 24th, maybe in the year 269 or maybe 270; no historian would be able to certify that now. But it is in honour of this holy Valentine that we celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, the day of lovers, on the 14th February every year.