The most romantic day of the year is here when you can show your other half just how much you love them.
Valentine’s Day can be a love it or loathe it day. While some celebrate with romantic gestures, cards and flowers others stay well clear of all such displays.
But what is the story behind Valentine’s Day?
Well as it’s February 14 here’s everything you need to know about the history of the day and how we’ve ended up where we are.
We’ve gone through the history books to find out the reasons and origins and how the day’s evolved.
The true history behind St Valentine
Numerous Christian saints go by the name of Valentine.
The one that’s become the centre of attention every February 14 is St Valentine of Rome.
Two legends surround him.
The first is that men in the Roman army had been forbidden to marry by Emperor Claudius II as he believed married men did not make good soldiers.
This was something Valentine disagreed with and he set about performing secret weddings for Christian soldiers until his actions were uncovered, leading to his arrest and execution in 269 AD.
The other suggests that his arrest was for helping persecuted Christians escape prison in Rome.
After being thrown into jail himself he fell in love with a young woman – who is believed to be the jailer’s daughter – who visited him in his cell.
His final letter to this woman, which he left on the day of his execution, was signed ‘From your Valentine’.
Confusion remains around the identity of St Valentine. Other accounts suggest there was a Valentine who was Bishop of Terni who also died at the hands of Claudius II, however it’s thought these two men are the same.
The church stopped veneration of Valentine in 1969, however he is still listed as an official saint.
The name “Valentinus” comes from the Latin word for worthy, strong or powerful which became popular between the second and eighth centuries.
As a result there are around a dozen St Valentines and even a Pope Valentine. February 14 though celebrates St Valentine of Rome who is patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy.
He’s also patron saint for fainting, the plague and travelling as well as engaged couples and happy marriages as people – both single and in relationships – call on his help every February.
When did Valentine’s Day start?
The origins of what is now Valentine’s Day date back to a Roman Festival known as Lupercalia, according to History.com.
Held on February 15, it was a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman God of Agriculture, Faunus, in which boys would draw girls’ names from a box. The subsequent pair would be partners for the festival with these matches often leading to marriage later on.
It was outlawed at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius I established Saint Valentine’s Day in 496 AD which started off as a Christian feast. Links to love didn’t come until much later.
The first time the Valentine’s Day feast is believed to have been associated with love is Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1375 poem ‘Parliament of Foules’. In it he described February 14 as the day birds found their mate: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
There’s no actual record of Valentine’s Day before this poem.
St Valentine’s remains
The skull of St Valentine is still in Rome and is now on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin where it’s adorned with flowers. But it’s not always been there.
It was found when a catacomb near Rome was being excavated in the early 19th century when skeletal remains and other relics now associated with the saint were dug up.
As is the norm for these types of finds they were then split and distributed so if you want to see other remains of St Valentine then you can in England, Scotland, Ireland, France and the Czech Republic.
When did Valentine’s Day become commercial?
Interest in Valentine’s Day started to climb in the early 1800s when huge amounts of printed cars were sold.
But it was in 1913 when Hallmark Cards in Kansas City began mass producing dedicated Valentine’s Day cards that interest really took off. That, coupled with the arrival of the postage stamp, led to the start of people sending them anonymously with racy messages and poems often written inside.
These days 25 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent annually in the UK with the USA sending more than 190 million.
The act of signing them anonymously – as well as avoiding potential embarrassment – was started by the Victorians who thought it was bad luck to sign the cards with their actual names.
Why are roses associated with Valentine’s Day?
Ever since the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persion poetical art known as “language of flowers” to Europe, roses have symbolised love.
The red rose was also believed to be the favourite flower of Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, reinforcing the flower’s role in Valentine’s Day.
Meanwhile Cupid is the God of Desire, Erotic Love and Attraction. He is the son of Venus, Goddess of Love, and Mars, God of War. Cupid in Latin is ‘amor’ which means love.