Friday, February 13, 2009


In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honor Juno, the Goddess of women and marriage. Juno was also the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia. Young boys and girls lived strictly separated. However, on the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man drew a girl's name from the jar and would then be partnered with her for the duration of the festival. The pastors of the early Christian Church in Rome tried to end the pagan element in these feasts by substituting the names of saints for those of the girls. And as the Lupercalia began about the middle of February, the pastors chose Saint Valentine's Day for the celebration of this new feast. So it seems that the custom of young men choosing girls for valentines, or saints as patrons for the coming year, arose in this way. Legend has it that the Emperor Claudius II Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his army and reasoned that the problem was that roman men did not want to leave their wives and families. Claudius decided to cancel all marriages and engagements in Rome. Saint Valentine was a priest at Rome at this time. He and Saint Marius are said to have aided the Christian martyrs and married couples secretly (This set up a very proper tradition for getting married on Valentine's Day in modern times). For this, Saint Valentine was condemned to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, around 270 AD. A colorful addition to this story is that while in jail, Valentine fell in love with the jailer's blind daughter and miraculously restored her sight. Before his execution, he is supposed to have sent her a farewell note signed "From Your Valentine." In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine. People also believed that birds began mating on February 14. The idea of lovebirds soon became associated with Saint Valentine. Gradually, it became the date for exchanging love messages and St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers. The date was often marked by the sending poems and simple gifts, such as flowers. The first written valentine is usually attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans. In 1415, Charles spent his lonely confinement by writing romantic verses for his wife. By the sixteenth century written valentines were so common that St. Francis de Sales, fearing for the souls of his English flock, sermonized against them. Manufactured cards, decorated with Cupids and hearts, appeared near the end of the 18th century. A purchased valentine became the most popular way to declare love during the early decades of the nineteenth century. Some of these cards were miniature works of art. Victorian valentine's day cards were often painted by hand and were decorated with laces, silk or satin, flowers (some made from the feathers of tropical birds), glass filigrees, gold-leaf or even perfumed sachets! They put our modern day cards to shame.

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