“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”
In 1375, Medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer made the first written connection between St. Valentine’s Day and romance in his poem entitled “Parliament of Foules.” Prior to Chaucer’s line, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s Day / whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” the holiday celebrated the life St. Valentine, who secretly performed marriage ceremonies in defiance of Claudius II. The Roman emperor believed that bachelors made better soldiers.
The connection between St. Valentine’s Day and love stuck and February 14th is now celebrated around the world. Until the 19th century, Valentines in America consisted of hand-written notes exchanged between lovers. That all changed in 1840, when Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced Valentine. Howland became known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” and the rest is greeting card history. It is estimated that over 180 million Valentine cards will be exchanged this year alone.
Many people are surprised to learn that there were several saints named St. Valentine. Although the saint described above is the one most commonly associated with Valentine’s Day, there are thirteen more with the same moniker. Regardless, St. Valentine is considered the patron saint of engaged couples, happy marriages, and traveling. Interestingly, he is also the patron saint of beekeeping, epilepsy, plague, fainting, and traveling.
There are several symbols associated with Valentine’s day, including the heart, ribbons and lace, red roses, and of course, cupid. Although most people embrace these symbols without much thought, they all have very interesting histories and associations. For instance, ancient scholars knew that the heart was the center of all emotions. Even though they didn’t completely understand the role the organ plays in physical health, they didn’t underestimate its importance. Thus, the heart became the symbol for emotional attraction and love.
Ribbon and lace may not be as prevalent in today’s Valentine gestures, but it was prominent in years past. The tradition dates all the way back to King Arthur’s court, when a knight would ride into battle with the scarf or handkerchief of his sweetheart. It was believed that such tokens would keep the knight safe and therefore keep the lovebirds together.
Red roses have long been considered a symbol of love. It is said that red roses were the favorite flower of the Venus, the Greek goddess of love. Intriguingly, when rearranged, the letters of “rose” spell out Eros, the Greek god of love.
No explanation of Valentine’s Day is complete without a mention of cupid. Although often a cartoon-like caricature in contemporary lore, Cupid was a very prominent figure in ancient ideologies. In Latin, the word “cupid” translates to “desire,” and Cupid was considered the god of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection. It was believed that two people struck by the same arrow from Cupid’s quiver would fall hopelessly in love for the eternity of their lives.
The true essence of Valentine’s Day cannot be found in a card or box of chocolates. The holiday was born out of the respect and admiration for the power of love, an emotion that predates both materialism and consumerism. It is about recognizing the value of relationships and embracing the vast potential that those relationships create. In the end, all that really matters is love.
“True love is a discipline in which each divines the secret self of the other
and refuses to believe in the mere daily self.”
~ William Butler Yeats
By Jamee Larson