Valentine’s Day: The Wild, Pagan Historical past Behind the Romantic Vacation

Valentine’s Day: The Wild, Pagan Historical past Behind the Romantic Vacation

A pair on Valentine’s Day.


Cultura RM Unique/Spark Photographic

On Valentine’s Day, hundreds of thousands current flowers, sweets and playing cards to their sweethearts. Whereas the vacation’s traditions actually grew to become cemented within the 1800s, historians hyperlink its roots to wild pagan revelries from earlier than the delivery of Saint Valentine himself.

Learn on for Valentine’s Day’s Roman origins, its rise as a Christian vacation and the emergence of now-familiar V-day traditions.

For extra Valentine’s Day enjoyable, take a look at Google’s Valentine’s Day Google Doodle, a information to being single on Valentine’s Day and recommendations on avoiding romance scams.

The origins of Valentine’s Day

Many historians consider the seeds of Valentine’s Day have been planted in Lupercalia, an historic Roman pageant honoring Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage, and the Capitoline Wolf, a mythic creature who supposedly suckled Romulus and Remus, Rome’s twin founders, once they have been deserted as infants. (The Latin phrase for wolf is lupus.)

Lupercalia celebration

Younger monks being painted with goat blood throughout the feast of Lupercalia.


De Agostini Image Library/Getty Photographs

Courting again at the very least to the sixth century B.C., Lupercalia was a sexually charged and violent ceremony, involving the sacrifice of canines and male goats as an indication of virility.

On Feb. 15, monks often called Luperci had their foreheads anointed with the blood from the sacrificial knife, after which have been cleaned with wool soaked in milk. The Luperci would later lower strips of goat disguise and run bare by the town, whipping close by girls with the bloody disguise. 

“Many ladies of rank additionally purposely get of their means and, like youngsters in school, current their arms to be struck,” Plutarch wrote in his Lifetime of Caesar. “The idea is that the pregnant will thus be helped in supply and the barren to being pregnant.”

Additionally throughout Lupercalia, males would select a lady’s identify from a jar and escort her to the pageant. In some circumstances, the couple would type a romantic bond, and even marry.

The evolution of Valentine’s Day

The Lupercalia ceremony continued for hundreds of years, even after the ascension of Christianity in Rome.

Pope Hilarius reportedly demanded Emperor Anthemius abolish it in 467 A.D and a few 30 years later, Pope Gelasius tried to supplant it by declaring February 14 the Feast of Saint Valentine.

Saint Valentine by French painter Diodore Rahoult

An 1886 coloured engraving of Saint Valentine from French painter Diodore Rahoult. In response to custom, Valentine died by beheading on Feb 14., 289 AD after marrying a Christian lady and Roman legionnaire. 


Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Photographs

There have been a number of Christians named Valentine executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II.

Probably the most well-known was a third-century martyr imprisoned for secretly marrying Christian {couples} and serving to persecuted believers after which reportedly executed on Feb. 14, 289 A.D.

In a single early telling, the long run saint restored sight to his jailer’s blind daughter. Later, the legend grew to incorporate a letter he gave the lady earlier than his execution, reportedly signed “Your Valentine.” 

The weather of fertility and romance already related to Lupercalia made it a great match for a day honoring a saint who supposedly married {couples} in secret.

In Medieval Europe, individuals additionally reportedly believed birds selected their mates on Feb. 14. In his e-book Parliament of Fowls, Chaucer imagined the goddess Nature paired off all of the birds on “Seint Valentynes” day.

By the fifteenth century, the day grew to become related to the advanced code of courtly love that got here into vogue in Europe.

Learn extra: Construct-a-Bear launches ‘After Darkish’ sequence of naughty teddy bears for Valentine’s Day

In 1400, King Charles VI of France established the Constitution of the Court docket of Love, “as a distraction from a very nasty bout of plague,” in accordance with a put up on the College of Oxford web site. Members of the court docket would meet for dinner in Paris on Feb. 14 — male visitors have been anticipated to carry out an unique love track, which might be judged by a panel of younger girls. 

The now-familiar traditions of flowers, sweet and amorous notes (often called “Valentines”) emerged within the 1600s.

Valentine's Day Card

A Valentine’s Day card from 1909, depicting Cupid mending a damaged coronary heart.


Kean Assortment/Archive Photographs/Getty Photographs

Valentine’s Day within the US

Within the 1800s, as marriage in America shifted from extra of an financial alliance towards a romantic relationship, the recognition of Valentine’s Day soared. 

In some circumstances, individuals invented fictional ties to the previous to imbue the vacation with a extra hallowed (and respectable) legacy.

“There are all these nostalgic histories of Valentine’s Day on this interval of well-liked literature that invent historic tales that are not essentially correct,” historian Elizabeth White Nelson advised Teen Vogue. “They get recycled; the identical story of courtly love and the methods wherein this is the perfect type of love.”  

A Valentine's Day card from circa 1860

A Valentine’s Day card from circa 1860.


Heritage Artwork/Heritage Photographs by way of Getty Photographs

Valentine’s Day grew to become much more commercialized within the mid-Nineteenth century: In 1850, Esther Howland, the daughter of a stationery retailer proprietor in Worcester, Massachusetts, started producing lace-bordered Valentine’s playing cards with poems, roses, cherubs, and different imagery. On the peak of her enterprise, “The Mom of the American Valentine” was making $100,000 a 12 months.

Then, in 1868, British chocolatier Cadbury bought its first field of sweets formed like a coronary heart. 

Even a world pandemic could not cease individuals from expressing their devotion: In 2021, Individuals spent $21.8 billion {dollars} on Valentine’s Day procuring, in accordance with Statista, up from $15.7 billion a decade prior.

The Valentine’s Day coronary heart

You do not have to be a heart specialist to know that the “coronary heart” form that is in all places on Valentine’s Day bears little resemblance to the precise organ pumping blood by your physique.

paper heart

The stylized coronary heart related to Valentine’s Day first emerged within the 14th century


Kinga Krzeminska

The center has been considered because the supply of human love and emotion since antiquity. However the ancients had little understanding of its precise look.

Nicely into the Center Ages, the guts was represented as wanting “like a pine-cone,” primarily based on an outline by second-century Greek doctor Galen. Medieval paintings would typically depict a younger man providing his “cone-heart” to a maiden.

Jesus Sacred Heart

Shut-up of a Nineteenth century stained glass window depicting Jesus Christ together with his coronary heart and open arms on the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. 


Colours Hunter/Chasseur de Couleurs

The form we affiliate right this moment with the Valentine’s coronary heart emerged within the 14th century: An illustration from poet Francesco da Barberino’s Precepts on Love (Documenti d’Amore) options Cupid astride a horse whose neck is draped with the acquainted image.

A symmetrical form with a cleft within the center additionally appeared within the French manuscript The Romance of Alexander from about 1340. It exhibits a lady receiving the love token from a suitor, who factors to his chest to point its supply.

In an illustration from Petit Livre d’Amour, a group of affection poems written by Pierre Sala in 1500, the creator is proven dropping his coronary heart right into a flower for his mistress.

By the 1800s, mass-produced Valentine’s Day playing cards made the guts image ubiquitous.

The “sacred coronary heart” of Jesus has been a part of Christian iconography for hundreds of years, typically depicted as flaming and pierced by a lance or encircled with a crown of thorns. Within the 1530s, Christian reformer Martin Luther made a purple coronary heart inside a white rose his private seal.