The Pagan Legend of St. Valentine
Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.
But, does it Matter if we celebrate Valentine day?
Does it matter that an ancient festival used to worship pagan gods and promote fertility was adopted by the church and used to worship the God of the Bible? Does God really CARE what customs are used to worship and honor Him or what holidays we celebrate?
Notice the following warning God gave to Israel:
“When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘HOW DID THESE NATIONS SERVE THEIR GODS? I ALSO WILL DO LIKEWISE.’ ”
“You shall NOT worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods . . . ” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31, NKJV)
Note that the issue in this passage is NOT the worship of other gods. The warning is to not adopt CUSTOMS used to worship or honor other gods in order to serve and worship the true God.
The true origin of Valentine’s day and its symbols are rooted in the worship of false gods and has no Biblical basis. Those who celebrate the holiday and consider themselves believers in the God of the Bible need to take a prayerful look at no longer observing the holiday.
The Catholic Church no longer officially honors St. Valentine, but the holiday has both Roman and Catholic roots.
A quick quiz: St. Valentine was:
a) a priest in the Roman Empire who helped persecuted Christians during the reign of Claudius II, was thrown in jail and later beheaded on Feb. 14.
b) a Catholic bishop of Terni who was beheaded, also during the reign of Claudius II.
c) someone who secretly married couples when marriage was forbidden, or suffered in Africa, or wrote letters to his jailer’s daughter, and was probably beheaded.
d) all, some, or possibly none of the above.
If you guessed d), give yourself a box of chocolates. Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts. (Those highly sought-after days are reserved for saints with more clear historical record. After all, the saints are real individuals for us to imitate.) Some parishes, however, observe the feast of St. Valentine.
How did we get Valentine’s Day?
In 313 A.D. Roman Emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christianity and ended Rome’s persecution of Christians. In 380 A.D. Christianity is made the OFFICIAL state religion of the Roman Empire. These actions not only enabled the teachings of Christianity to spread unhindered within the empire, it encouraged non-Christians to convert to the once-persecuted religion.
The pagans, however, who adopted Christianity as their religion did not entirely abandon the traditions and practices they held before their “conversion.” One of these traditions brought into the church was the fertility celebration known as the Lupercalia:
“Yet the vestiges of superstition were not absolutely obliterated, and the festival of the Lupercalia, whose origin had preceded the foundation of Rome, was still celebrated under the reign of Anthemius.” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons, Chapter 36, Part 3)
Western Roman Emperor Anthemius ruled the empire from 467 to 472 A.D. Mr. Gibbons goes on to state:
“After the conversion of the Imperial city (Rome), the Christians still continued, in the month of February, the annual celebration of the Lupercalia; to which they ascribed a secret and mysterious influence on the genial powers of the animal and vegetable world. ”
Victorian Era Valentine’s Day Card
Twenty-four years after the death of Emperor Anthemius a “christianized” form of the festival of Lupercalia was officially adopted by the church as a time to honor a saint – St. Valentine:
“As far back as 496 A.D., (Catholic) Pope Gelasius changed Lupercalia on February 15 to St. Valentine’s Day on February 14.” (Customs and Holidays Around the World by Lavinia Dobler).
“Early Christians were happier with the idea of a holiday honoring the saint of romantic causes than with one recognizing a pagan festival. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius named February 14 in honor of St. Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. ” (How Valentine’s Day Works, Apr. 1, 2000, retrieved Jan. 11, 2011)
February 14th as the day to honor Saint Valentine (the Catholic Church currently recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus) stayed on the Roman church’s Calendar of Saints until 1969 A.D. It was removed from the calendar by Pope Paul VI.
What was the festival of the Lupercalia?
The Lupercalia festival was partly in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who (according to legend) nursed the infant orphans Romulus and Remus. Roman legend states that Romulus and Remus founded the city of Rome in 753 B.C. The pagan festival was also in honor of the Roman god Lupercus who was considered the god of shepherds. Lupercus was Rome’s equivalent to the Greek god Pan.
The link between the Lupercalia, fertility, and romance in general is clearly evident in the festivities that occurred during the celebrations:
“To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.
“The boys then sliced the goat’s hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year.
“Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.” (Valentine’s Day, History Channel web site, retrieved Jan. 10, 2011)
The Greek historian Plutarch (c. 46 to 120 A.D.) also describes the Lupercalia and its relationship to fertility:
“Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”
The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr further links the worship of pagan gods to the Lupercalia when he writes of an image of “the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus,” who is nude save for a girdle of goatskin, which stood in the Lupercal, the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf.
Whose Wild and Crazy Romans
From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.
The Roman romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.
The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival – or longer, if the match was right.
The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.
Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, “It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.”
Around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin’s Day. Galatin meant “lover of women.” That was likely confused with St. Valentine’s Day at some point, in part because they sound alike.
Symbols of Valentine’s Day
Red roses were said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Red is also a color that signifies strong feelings.
Doves are symbols of loyalty and love because they mate for life and share the care of their babies.
In Roman mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, affection and erotic love. Today, Cupid is frequently shown shooting his bow to inspire romantic love.
It is unclear where the familiar heart shape originated. One possibility involves the now-extinct North African plant silphium. The city-state of Cyrene had a lucrative trade in the plant, which looks just like the heart shape used today. Though mostly used for seasoning, it was also used for birth control.
Sources: How Valentine’s Day Works, HowStuffWorks.com, Wikipedia; Where did the ubiquitous Valentine’s symbol come from: from Slate
The roots of St. Valentine’s Day lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on Feb. 15. For 800 years the Romans had dedicated this day to the god Lupercus. On Lupercalia, a young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year.
Pope Gelasius I was, understandably, less than thrilled with this custom. So he changed the lottery to have both young men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year (a change that no doubt disappointed a few young men). Instead of Lupercus, the patron of the feast became Valentine. For Roman men, the day continued to be an occasion to seek the affections of women, and it became a tradition to give out handwritten messages of admiration that included Valentine’s name.
There was also a conventional belief in Europe during the Middle Ages that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love, and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved. Legend has it that Charles, duke of Orleans, sent the first real Valentine card to his wife in 1415, when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. (He, however, was not beheaded, and died a half-century later of old age.)
Does it matter to GOD that we celebrate the holiday? WHERE did we get Valentine customs and symbols? Though Valentine hearts and roses are red, retailers and business owners see the green of MONEY when it comes to celebrating the holiday. Here are some fast facts about the Valentine’s holiday*:
Shakespeare In Love
As the years went on, the holiday grew sweeter. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Handmade paper cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages.
Eventually, the tradition made its way to the New World. The industrial revolution ushered in factory-made cards in the 19th century. And in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines. February has not been the same since
William Shakespeare helped romanticize Valentine’s Day in his work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Perry-Castañeda Library, University of Texas
- In the United States Valentine’s week is ranked number one in regard to chocolate candy sales. Sales of chocolate account for more than $345 million out of the more than $448 million dollars in candy consumers will purchase to celebrate the holiday.
- E-commerce retailers expect to rack up about $650 million dollars selling food, candy, flowers and other Valentine’s Day related goods.
- About 15 million Electronic Valentines (E-Valentines) were sent in 2010.
- About 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year. Teachers receive the most cards, followed by children, mothers, wives, then sweethearts. Children ages 6 to 10 exchange more than 650 million Valentine’s cards with teachers, classmates and family members.
- Canadians, in 2007, averaged spending $92.30 on Valentine gifts.
- U.S. consumers, in 2009, spent an average of $102.50 on Valentine’s gifts and merchandise. Total spending on the holiday was expected to reach $14.7 BILLION.
- The 35 to 44 year old age group spends the most money on the holiday, followed by young adults aged 18 to 24. The 55 to 64 year old age group spends the least amount of money on Valentines.
- Lastly, and not surprisingly, men spend nearly TWICE the amount of money celebrating the holiday than women do.
The Origins of St. Valentine’s Day
The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. 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 truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Valentine’s Day: A Pagan Festival in February
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” 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, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
Valentine’s Day: A Day of Romance
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
Typical Valentine’s Day Greetings
In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.
Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.
Not everyone loves St. Valentine
The religious police in Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2008, banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day related items. The police warned shop workers to remove any items colored red as they consider Valentine’s Day a Christian holiday. In 2008 this ban created a black market for roses and wrapping paper.
In Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami political party has called for the banning of the holiday. Despite this declaration the celebration of Valentine’s Day has grown increasingly popular. Florists are expected to sell a large amount of flowers, especially red roses.
In Iran, the celebration of the holiday has been harshly criticized by conservatives who see the day as opposed to Islamic culture. The Iranian printing works owners’ union, in 2011, issued a directive banning the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the Valentine’s holiday such as cards, gifts, teddy bears, posters, boxes printed with hearts or half-hearts and red roses. Activities promoting the holiday are also banned. The union warned that “Outlets that violate this will be legally dealt with.”
Have nothing to do with this ungodly holidays.
Sources: (Wikipedia articles, Arnie Seipel, Remnant of god archives, history.com)