Tuesday, February 14, 2006

a little valentine day history

As early as the fourth century B.C., the Romans engaged in an annual young man's rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The names of teenage women were placed in a box and drawn at random by adolescent men. Thus, a man was assigned a woman companion, for their mutual entertainment and pleasure (often sexual), for the duration of a year, after which another lottery was staged.
Determined to put an end to this 800-year-old practice, the early church fathers sought a "lovers" saint to replace the deity Lupercus. They found a likely candidate in Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred some 200 years earlier.
Traditionally, mid-February was a time for Romans to meet and court prospective mates. Young men offered women they admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. The cards acquired St. Valentine's name.
As Christianity spread, so did the Valentine's Day card. The earliest one was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. It is now in the British Museum.
The first American publisher of Valentines was printer and artist Esther Howland. Her elaborate lace cards of the 1870s cost from five to ten dollars, with some selling for as much as thirty-five dollars. Since that time, the Valentine card business has flourished. Except for Christmas, Americans exchange more cards on Valentine's Day than at any other time of the year.


Jay said...

What's REALLY interesting about St. Valentine is the distinct possibility that he NEVER EXISTED!

Valentine's Day is linked to the ancient Roman Lupercalia feast, as you've mentioned. The early Christian church fathers had a policy of replacing Pagan gods and goddesses with Christian saints. Sometimes these saints actually existed. In other cases, the story of a Roman god or goddess was cleaned up and Christianized. During the reign of Pope Gelasius around 470, some of the Pagan elements were minimized or entirely deleted. A biography was created so that they would appear to have been real human beings. St. Valentine appears to have been one of these, in that there are multiple stories, even within the Catholic church itself, about the life and times of Valentine.

But wait, it's not "inner-dork Thursday"!!! The rest of this story will have to wait! ;P

Happy Valentine's Day to you, sweetheart! *smooch*

Kilt Trip said...

One more reason to hate the Romans. Forget the fact that my post for today has a Roman reference.

Elvi etiamnunc vivere!

Party Girl said...

slow down Jay, your getting ahead of yourself. *wink*
I thought about saving this until Inner Dork Thursday, but that seemed odd. Two dorkings in one week, I donno, can you handle it?

..have you noticed a them with the Christians? just sayin'

Rob: agh, the Romans and the Christians, how about we feed them both to the lions?