"From Your Valentine," the farewell message was signed, from St. Valentine to his love. She was the blind daughter of his jailer.
St. Valentine, a Catholic Bishop, was imprisoned by Emperor Claudius for secretly performing wedding ceremonies for Roman men. Marriage had been outlawed by Emperor Claudius because he thought that married men made poor soldiers, as they did not want to leave their wives and families to go to war. When Valentine was caught, Claudius first tried to convert him to paganism. Valentine reversed the strategy and tried to convert Claudius, and in turn was stoned and beheaded, in the year of AD 270.
Although the holiday in mid February is named for St. Valentine, the celebration is actually a replacement for a Roman Pagan festival. For eight hundred years prior, it was a practice observing the right of passage for young men to Lupercus, the Roman god of agriculture and shepherds. There was a lottery held, where the names of teenage girls were placed in a jar or box, and drawn by the men. Whichever girl they chose would be their companion for the next year.
In later years, as a alternative to the Pagan festival, Pope Gelasius continued the lottery, but instead filled the used container with names of saints, and men and women were both allowed to participate, and in the following year they would imitate the ways of the saint they had drawn. Not surprisingly, the young men were less than pleased with the change. The Church looked for a saint to honor to replace Lupercus, and chose St. Valentine, since known as the patron saint of love. The holiday then was acknowledged on February 14, the anniversary of Valentine's death.
Although the lottery is no longer, the tradition to exchange love cards has remained. The first Valentine's card was sent by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415, during his imprisonment in the Tower of London.
Jennifer Thompson, Column Editor and Contributing Writer
US Legacies, February 2004
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