Valentine’s Day is an occasion to shower your significant other with flowers, chocolates, and, as one wise animated clock once said, promises you don’t intend to keep.
Not the case centuries ago. Long before Valentine’s Day became Hallmark’s holiday, Feb. 14 marked the day a Roman priest was beaten with clubs, stoned, and beheaded for his attempts to protect people’s right to get married.
The origin of St. Valentine, and how many St. Valentines there actually were, remains a mystery. One was a Roman priest, another an Italian bishop, and a third was a clergyman in Africa. None of them met happy endings, and all supposedly perished on Feb. 14. “Like love itself, the start of the celebration is somewhat confusing,” Renee Bronaugh appropriately described the murky history in Missouri’s Daily Journal.
The Christian saint most associated with Valentine’s Day lived in third-century Rome, around 270 A.D. It was a perilous time: Roman officials persecuted Christians for their beliefs, poor governing led to constant domestic strife, and the threat of invasion from outside tribes loomed large.
Determined to preserve his empire, Claudius II resolved to build a powerful army, but he ran into a problem: Not enough soldiers were enlisting. The emperor posited that Roman men wanted to stay with their wives and families rather than go to war. Single men, he believed, made for better soldiers. And so Claudius reputedly banned all marriages and engagements in the city.
Valentine, a Christian priest, believed the decree violated citizen’s rights, and he continued to marry couples in secret. When the emperor discovered the black-market ceremonies, he had Valentine imprisoned. During questioning, Valentine denounced the Roman gods and tried to persuade Claudius to convert to Christianity, which outraged the emperor. Valentine was subsequently sentenced to death for his crimes.
Legend has it that while he awaited his sentence, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, a blind young woman named Julia, and restored her sight. His last words, the story goes, were in a note to her before his execution, signed “from your Valentine.”
Valentine was eventually named a martyr by the Church for giving up his life to perform the sacrament of marriage.
But the story of how Valentine’s name became linked with romance remains unclear. The date of his death may have coincided with the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love.
In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to the feast, and named Feb. 14 the feast day for St. Valentine in honor of the fallen priest. The 14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to call the date “Valentine’s Day,” in his love poem, “The Parliament of Fowls.”
St. Valentine’s legacy took a hit in 1969. A lack of information documenting his life, as well as confusion over the holiday’s origins, led the Catholic Church to drop St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official feasts.
Official standing in the Catholic canon or not, Valentine’s Day makes out well these days. An estimated 224 million roses are grown for the holiday each year in the U.S. Americans will spend $1.6 billion on candy, $1.9 billion on flowers, and a whopping $4.4 billion on jewelry. They’ll also buy about 145 million cards for their Valentines.
They’re probably not thinking about one priest’s horrific end centuries ago as they shop, but they’re likely bestowing their gifts in the name of what he died for.
What We're Following See More »
"Even as he acknowledged the importance of an open internet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday set his telecom agency on a course to scrap the tough, broad net neutrality protections imposed by the Obama administration. During a major speech in Washington, D.C., Pai outlined the need for a total revision of existing federal rules that seek to prevent companies like AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon from blocking or slowing down web content, including the movie or music offerings from their competitors." Separately, Pai told Reason's Nick Gillespie that the Clinton Administration "basically got it right when it came to digital infrastructure. We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015."
The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement today established the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE), as called for in a presidential executive order from January. The new office's website states that its staff "will be guided by a singular, straightforward mission—to ensure victims and their families have access to releasable information about a perpetrator and to offer assistance explaining the immigration removal process."