|5th Century, Rome
Mid February was traditionally the time of the Lupercian festival,
an ode to the God of fertility and a celebration of sensual pleasure, a time to meet and
court a prospective mate. In AD 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival. But he was
clever to replace it with a similar celebration, although one deemed morally suitable.
He needed a "lovers" saint to replace the pagan deity Lupercus.
The martyred Bishop Valentine was chosen as the patron
saint of the new festival.
Saint Valentine had been beheaded for helping young
lovers marry against the wishes of the mad emperor Claudius. Before execution, Valentine
himself had fallen in love with his jailer's daughter. He signed his final note to her,
"From Your Valentine", a phrase that has lasted through the centuries.
Pope Gelasius didn't get everything he wanted. The pagan
festival died out, it is true, but he had further hoped people would emulate the lives of
saints. Instead they latched onto the more romantic aspect of Saint Valentines religious
life. While not immediately as popular as the more passionate pagan festival, eventually
the concept of celebrating true love became known as Valentine's Day.