Valentine's Day: Flowers, chocolates and cupids? ...

St. Valentine and Feb. 14

The legend:
In A.D. 270 in Rome a bishop named Valentine secretly married young couples, despite the emperor's edict forbidding marriage. Valentine's refusal to renounce Christianity and its customs led to his execution on February 14. Legend has it that while in prison awaiting his fate, Valentine fell in love with the daughter of the jailer. He signed his farewell message to her: "From Your Valentine." Valentine's Day is named in his honor.
from "An Exceptional Valentine" by H.B. London Jr., Focus on the Family magazine, Feb. 2000, p. 12

The Evidence:

"Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine" by H. A. Kelly (Leiden: Brill, 1986), discusses a number of different claimants to the title "St. Valentine", and a number of different dates for his "day", now Feb. 14. The name Valentine was common among Christians in early and medieval times. It seems that two Valentines have really strong claims to be the original: Valentine, the tribune of Rome (270 A.D.?), and Valentine, bishop of Terni in Italy. According to legend, both were martyrs, but neither engaged in the activities depicted in the St. Valentine's day legend. Other Valentines became amalgamated with these Valentines or forgotten. The authors of the "Acta Sanctorum" ("Deeds of the Saints", 1643-1940) have collected these legends.

However, the major confusion happened at the time of English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400 A.D.). Valentine, first Bishop of Genoa in Italy, had his day on May 3rd. This was associated with many spring-time "love" activities - going back to pre-Christian Rome. For instance, May 3rd was the last day of the Roman "Floralia" (Flower) festival. The goddess Flora, in whose honor the Floralia were held, had a colorful career. She was raped by the god Zephyr, but later married him. She is the goddess of fertility in the fields and bestows honey by calling winged creatures (birds and insects) to the flowers. She also presides over youths whose bodies are flourishing. The Floralia festivities were characterized by flowers, frolics and flirtations. Prostitutes were welcome.

Cupid was the ancient Roman "god of love".

Each May, Chaucer published a "Valentine" love story/poem. Other poets also picked up this connection between flowers and a St. Valentine. In northern Europe, the most well-known St. Valentine's day was on Feb. 14th. Those of Chaucer's time confused St. Valentine of Genoa with the other Valentines, and so connected the "love" and flower activities with February 14th. Though skeptics, even at that time, noticed the seasonal impossibility of spring flowers in February!

In more recent times, greetings cards and chocolates have been added to Valentine's flower basket.

St. Valentine's Day has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity and, in fact, little to do with the activities of any particular Saint.

Ironically, the people of Genoa, Italy, have now adopted the northern European custom of observing Valentine's day on February 14th, and have forgotten their own May Valentine!

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