Tuesday, February 14, 2012

History of St Valentine's Day

Feast of Lupercalia

There is still no single historic explanation for the Saint Valentine's Day origins, and there is no historic figure of the saint who gave its name to this beautiful holiday. One of the most acceptable explanations is based on the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love, celebrated in Ancient Rome. The festival has been arranged on February 15th, commemorating young men's rite of passage to their God of fertility Lupercus, who watched over the shepherds of Rome against predatory lupus or wolves. According to Noel Lenski, classics professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, young men would strip naked and use goat- or dog-skin whips to spank the backsides of young women in order to improve their fertility.

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An interesting custom was followed in the Feast of Lupercalia to bring together young boys and girls who otherwise were strictly separated. On the eve of the festival names of young Roman girls were written on a slip of paper and placed into jars. Each young man drew out a girl's name from the jar and was paired with the girl for the duration of Lupercalia. Sometime pairing lasted for a year until next year's celebration. Quite often, the couple would fall in love with each other and later marry. The custom lasted for a long time until people felt that the custom was un-Christian and that mates should be chosen by sight, not luck.

In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to the Feast of Lupercalia, and he declared that February 14 be celebrated as St Valentine's Day.

Who was Saint Valentine?

While the historical background of the holiday is somehow clear, the personality of Saint Valentine himself is still questionable. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February." One was a priest in Rome, the second one was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy) and the third St. Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

However, the most popular and the most logical explanation is pointing on a Roman priest or bishop who used to live in Rome around 270 A.D.

Ancient Rome was in state of war most time in its glorious history. However, under the rule of Emperor Claudius II (Claudius the Cruel), he country became involved in several unsuccessful, unpopular, and bloody campaigns. After a while, the emperor has started getting difficulties with recruitment to his military leagues. Claudius strongly believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families. Therefore, to get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome.

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A romantic at heart priest of Rome Saint Valentine defied Claudius's unjustified order. Along with Saint Marius, St Valentine secretly married couples. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, 269 A.D.

Legend also has it that while in prison Valentine fell in love with blind daughter of his jailor Asterius, who visited him during confinement. Before his death Valentine wrote a farewell letter to his sweetheart from the jail and signed From your Valentine.

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Saint Valentine of Rome was buried on the Via Flaminia, and his relics can be found at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome, and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland. In 1969, the Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar, removing the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable. St. Valentine was one of the casualties.

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