What today’s celebrations mean, the origins explained and who St Valentine was

Depending on your point of view, Valentine’s Day is a heartfelt celebration of love or over-commercialised nonsense.

But whichever side of the fence you find yourself, the fact remains that it shows no sign of going away.

The last two years have created unique challenges for couples, so if you’ve made it to Valentine’s Day 2022 with your romance intact then you’ve probably earned a celebration.

But why is 14 February associated with romance, and who was the saint who gave the occasion his name?

What is the meaning behind Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day rose to prominence in the 18th century, with people beginning to send cards and give presents to their partners.

Nobody is completely certain why we mark it on 14 February each year, but there are a number of theories.

Some, for example, believe St Valentine’s Day was placed on the date to mark the burial of Valentine of Rome.

Valentine’s Day is always celebrated on 14 February, which this year falls on a Monday (Photo: Getty Images/Anadolu)

Pope Gelasius added it to the calendar in the fifth century in place of the pagan festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated between 13-15 February, dedicated to the god of agriculture, and denoted the start of spring.

Apparently, Gelasius scrapped it for Valentine’s Day to Christianise the pagan festival, but there is no proof of this.

The date is referred to in “Parchement of Foules”, a 1382 poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, which is believed to be the first time Valentine’s Day was associated with romance.

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In that work, he wrote: “For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

This translates to: “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

This is a reference to the start of birds’ mating season, which in Middle England was generally accepted to be on 14 February.

There are two different saints called Valentine associated with the day (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Who was St Valentine?

The celebration actually links to at least two saints – the aforementioned Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni, and possibly another of the same name about whom little is known.

Valentine of Rome was a Roman priest who was martyred in 296 and added to the calendar of saints by Pope Galesius in 496.

The story goes that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire.

According to legend, during his imprisonment Valentine of Rome restored sight to the blind daughter of his judge, and before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine”.

Valentine of Terni was a bishop who was martyred during the persecution by Emperor Aurelian in 273.

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