This Valentine’s Day you will probably either send or receive a Valentine’s gift, with flowers and chocolates proving the most popular presents to give. As with all of our celebrations, there is a story behind the day the dates back centuries.
The roots of Valentine’s Day dates back to Roman times. In the third century,
the Roman Empire was ruled by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. He was nicknamed Claudius the Cruel because of his harsh leadership and his tendency for war.
Claudius believed that single men made better soldiers, so he cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.
A simple Christian priest named Valentine fought the injustice of the decree and began secretly marrying soldiers before they went off to war, despite the emperor’s orders. In 269 A.D. Emperor Claudius found out about the secret ceremonies. He had Valentine thrown into prison and ordered that he be put to death.
As legend has it, whilst Valentine was awaiting execution, he fell in love with a blind girl, who happened to be the jailer’s daughter. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.
Although the exact truth behind the Valentine legend isn’t clear, the stories all emphasise Valentine’s appeal as a sympathetic, romantic figure. Valentine gave his life so that young couples could be bonded together in holy matrimony.
Even centuries after his death, the story of Valentine’s self-sacrificing commitment to love was legendary in Rome and beyond. Eventually, he was granted sainthood and the Catholic Church decided to create a feast in his honour. Some argue that this was to “Christianise” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and to Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity but was outlawed, as it was deemed “un-Christian”, at the end of the fifth century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.
The oldest known written valentines still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London, following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. This greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London.
For centuries, flowers have symbolised fertility, love, marriage, and romance. The history of giving your loved one Valentine’s Day flowers stems from the custom of sending floral bouquets to pass on non-verbal messages, introduced by Charles II of Sweden, in the 18th century. Each flower had a specific meaning attached to it, making it possible to have an entire conversation using only flowers. People continue to send flowers on special occasions, particularly to express sentiments of love and admiration.
The Rose, particularly Red Roses, are the traditional Valentine’s Day flowers, as they signify romantic love. Although, there are many other flowers that people send to communicate the different types of love they feel.