Legendary namesake: Valentine’s Day lacks historical substance

 

Many people may believe the legend promoted by the History Channel that St. Valentine was a third century martyr. He was purported to have secretly performed illegal marriages for young Romans when Claudius II outlawed marriage for Roman soldiers.

Another legend says that he was killed for helping Christians escape from Roman prisons. St. Valentine is also credited with writing the first “valentine” from prison, signing a letter to a young girl, “From your Valentine.” By the Middle Ages he had become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Legends abound as to the identity of St. Valentine, but according to professor of history Dr. Greg Miller, the saint may be completely ahistorical. Rather than dealing with a saint, Valentine's Day is more connected to an ancient Roman fertility festival which took place on Feb. 14. (Photo by Kaitie Fox)

However, according to professor of history Dr. Gregory Miller, there is no historical evidence that any such man existed.

“In the 1960’s, the Catholic Church, as a result of the 2nd Vatican council, decided to get rid of the saints’ days which were iffy as to whether there was any actual historical reality to them,” Miller said. “No church marks it anymore.”

St. Valentine’s Day was one of many which were rejected.

This holiday seems to be most connected with the ancient Roman fertility festival, Lupercalia, which was celebrated on Feb. 14.

“In the 360s AD, as Rome was becoming officially Christian, the pagan holidays were transformed into Christian holidays,” Miller said. “This is probably how St. Valentine’s Day came about. They had the practice of Lupercalia and just made up a past to go with that practice.”

According to Miller it wasn’t until the late Middle Ages that a connection arose between candy, flowers and St. Valentine.

Even then, it wasn’t until Hallmark commercialized the holiday by emphasizing sending romantic notes bought from them on Feb. 14 that it became that big of a deal.

“It’s pretty much a made up holiday for the purposes of a card company and florists with very little historical substance to it at all,” Miller said. “It just shows that things that we think are really long standing really turn out to be rather recent.”

There is a holiday in February which has a much stronger historical basis, and a stronger connection to the church calendar—Feb 2.

This date marks the official church holiday called the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, or Candlemas. This holiday celebrates the day on which Mary presented Jesus in the temple.

Miller pointed out that historically this day celebrates “new beginnings, the settling of accounts for the past and thinking about the spring that was to come. Somehow that’s been associated with a furry rodent.”

[pullquote]It’s pretty much a made up holiday for the purposes of a card company and florists with very little historical substance to it at all,” Miller said. “It just shows that things that we think are really long standing, really turns out to be rather recent.”[/pullquote]

Just because there is no real historical evidence for the existence of St. Valentine, it doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the holiday.

“There’s nothing un-Christian about expressions of love or appreciation,” Miller said.

Kaitlyn Stump is a staff writer for The Aviso AVW.

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