Valentine History

by Andew Goodell

Many people believe that Valentine’s Day has something to dowith a Christian martyr named St. Valentine.

According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, there havebeen three individuals that were recognized under the moniker St.Valentine to be honored every Feb. 14. This encyclopedia statesthat all three of these men were martyrs (one who dies for theirChristian faith) documented in the early martyrologies.

One incarnation of St. Valentine was described by the New Adventas being a priest in Rome. Another was a bishop from Interamna,which is now known as Terni. The third is the most mysterious St.Valentine because little is known about this individual other thanthe fact that they resided somewhere in Africa.

Beyond the murkiness of ancient history, one can start todiscover just why Feb. 14 is so revered in our culture. Becausemany American customs can be traced back to Western Europe, it isno surprise that many of our contemporary Valentine’s Day customscan be traced back to those found in Medieval England andFrance.

In its search for the earliest medieval example of peoplecelebrating romantic love halfway through the month of February,New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia states that evidence to supportthe celebration of Valentine’s Day can be found in poet JohnGower’s “Ballades.”

This encyclopedia also states that there is evidence showing theorigin of our contemporary ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Dayfound in the work of Middle Ages writer Geoffrey Chaucer.

Quoted in the encyclopedia are two lines from Chaucer’s”Parliament of Foules” that provide a case for the celebration ofValentine’s Day as it is now known.

Chaucer writes, “‘For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day/Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.'”

There is no doubt it is quite difficult to make a connectionbetween any of the three St. Valentines’ lives or actions to theway many of us celebrate the holiday.

Associate Professor of Religion Gary Kinkel explained thatValentine’s Day is “representative of the process by which peoplewho came to be known as saints got associated with things thatdidn’t have anything to do with their actual lives orconcerns.”

Indeed Valentine’s Day has become a very secularized holidaythat has little or nothing to do with Christianity. In all honesty,how often does one find themselves pensively pondering theirreligious faith on Feb. 14 nowadays?

Throughout the evolution seen in Western culture’s expression ofthe Valentine’s Day holiday, our society has undoubtedly reflectedthe notion that love is a state whereby only happiness and pleasureabound.

Kinkel said that, “loving is really about setting my own egodemands aside for the sake of another person.”