Saint Valentine’s Day
St Valentine’s Day is held on February 14th and is traditionally a day when lovers express their affection by exchanging cards and gifts such as confectionary and flowers but its history goes back many centuries.
Saint Valentine’s Day was first established in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius 1 to celebrate the life of a Christian martyr named Valentine. There were several early Christian martyrs with the name of Valentine. The two that are celebrated on February 14th are Valentine of Rome who was a priest in Rome and martyred in AD 269. His relics are at the Church St Praxed in Rome. The second is Valentine of Terni who became bishop in about AD 197. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni. In early medieval biographies no romantic elements are linked to either of these saints. By the fourteenth century when the name was linked to romance all mention of these martyrs had been lost.
It is thought that it first became associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer in ‘Parlement of Foules’ (1382). He wrote the poem to mark the first anniversary of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia.
A ‘High court of Love’ was established in Paris on Valentines Day 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals and violence against women. The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th Century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife. He was at the time being held in the Tower of London after his capture at Agincourt
The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was produced by a British publisher in 1797. It contained hundreds of sentimental verses for the young lover who was unable to compose his own! Cards where already starting to be produced and with a reduction in postal rates during the next century gave rise to a less personalised but easier way of sending valentine cards. Cards could then be exchanged anonymously – this allowed for racier verses to be used in the prudish Victorian times.
During the 20th Century the tradition of exchanging cards changed to presents being exchanged. During the 1980’s Jewellery manufacturers used the day to promote the exchange of jewellery.