Now that everyone’s over and done with Valentine’s Day celebrations, it’s time for me to put on my geek hat again and talk about some history and trivia about this highly celebrated occasion.
Photo by ryanmcginnisphoto (Flickr)
The Legend of Saint Valentine
Everyone who has even bothered to find out the history of Valentine’s Day would certainly have heard of the famous legend of Saint Valentine. Once upon a time, there was a priest named Valentine, who lived in Rome sometime in the 3rd century, under the rule of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius II was a power-hungry despot (OK fine I made that up) who believed that single men made better soldiers than married men, hence he passed a law that forbade young men to marry – as part of his plot to continue expanding his army. The reason for his belief that it is better for soldiers to remain single is unknown. Perhaps he believed that being single means that their deaths on the battlefield mean less emotional harm to families at home, or that single men were able to act more mercilessly than married men. Who knows?
Anyway, Valentine obviously couldn’t stand up to this outrageous violation of a man’s right to love and marry, so he decided to serve justice to all deserving men by conducting their marriages in secret, against the decisions made by Claudius II. As you can imagine, such a practice could not last forever, and poor Valentine was finally exposed and thrown into prison and sentenced to death.
When he was in prison, he fell in love with the daughter of the jailor, who regularly visited him during his confinement. On the night before he was executed, Valentine wrote a letter to her, signing off as “From your Valentine” (this phrase is still very much in use today when we send Valentine greetings to friends and loved ones). Sadly, Valentine’s life was not spared and he died a martyr.
Now we look at what the facts are:
- “Saint Valentine” actually may be a reference to at least 3 different people: Priest Valentine of Rome, Bishop Valentine of Terni, and another Valentine in a Roman province in Africa. All of them were martyred at different times.
- The modern day Valentine legend makes no distinction between the Valentine of Rome or the Valentine of Terni
- There was NO link of romance based on the information available of the above-mentioned martyrs.
Yes, in case you guys were wondering, the legend of Saint Valentine is called a LEGEND for a reason. No doubt, there was an actual person by the name of Valentine, but unfortunately the story mentioned above is a highly romanticized version of the story, based on whatever little historical information available to historians. The rest of the details were filled in through the imagination of writers centuries later, after the death of Saint Valentine himself. It is the same situation as how many of us believe that the actual conflict of the Three Kingdoms in China is as dictated in the book “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” – when in actual fact, most of it is merely fiction created out of the mind of a single author.
So why was the legend created?
It beats me. All stories and legends have a root cause, or were created to serve a particular purpose. Some historians reckon it was simply a day to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death. Others believe it was an attempt to “Christianize” the pagan Lupercalia festival – a rite linked to the Faunus, the Roman God of agriculture – which was a festival for fertility. Who knows? And why was romance and love mysteriously introduced into Valentine’s Day?
Yes! There’s a day called White Day, celebrated exactly 1 month after Valentine’s Day. The gist is that White Day when guys show their appreciation to girls who have given them gifts during Valentine’s Day by giving them gifts in return, usually 2 to three times more expensive than what they’ve received. It is only celebrated in Japan and South Korea. Cool, eh?