Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Valentine’s Day – The Origin and Development of a Lovers’ Holiday

Simone Jonker
Simone Jonker worked in NTD Inspired for two years. She wrote light articles and inspiring stories.
Published: February 14, 2022
Love-birds-Valentine's Day-Wikimedia-commons
Rosy-faced lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollis roseicollis) composite 1 of 3 (Image: Charles J. Sharp via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

People all over the world will celebrate Valentine’s Day on Monday, February 14, 2022, for the third time amid the COVID-19  pandemic. It has been difficult for many folks to be near their loved ones; however, millions of people have found ways to come together or show their love and adulation, no matter what the situation. 

Ruth Altamura-Roll, a certified professional counselor based in New Jersey, said in an interview with Fox News Digital, “Connection drives all relationships, to heal during a time of isolation, we must let go of fear, connect with those [we] love, and practice the kind of love that is patient and kind.”

The annual holiday is a time for people to engage with each other by arranging special events or making gifts, buying or making toothsome desserts and sending valentine cards, hearts, cupids  and flowers. and more hearts. If they can afford it, some people go to a favorite restaurant, and others will try to get away for the weekend – all in the name of St. Valentine!

Who was Saint Valentine, and what was his significance?

It is believed that Valentine’s Day, “il giorno degli innamorati,” had its beginnings in Italy many centuries ago. Italy is famed for its beauty, history, gastronomy, celebrities, and global accomplishments. Its history and folklore are full of melancholic love stories. Think Romeo and Juliet, Dante Paolo and Francesca in “La Divina Commedia,” In “I Promessi Sposi,” Alessandro Manzoni describes Renzo and Lucia’s tumultuous love affair.

Painting St. Valentine Kneeling In Supplication by David Teniers III 1677. (Image: David Teniers III via Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

Valentine is the name of three early Christian saints who were slain on February 14. So, who founded the day for lovers? Many think it was a priest in Rome, in the third century AD. He lived under the reign of Emperor Claudius II, who prohibited young men from marrying. During his reign, the empire was crumbling and he needed all the men he could muster. Emperor Claudius thought single men were better warriors. 

However, this priest, Valentine, still arranged secret marriages during this time.

He was apprehended, imprisoned, and condemned to death. In prison, he allegedly fell for the jailer’s daughter. The most widely repeated rumor was that Valentine’s prayers cured the blind daughter of his prison guard.

As a goodbye, he left a love note for the young woman signed, Your Valentine.

20th-century historians agree that the accounts from this period cannot be verified, but he did exist.

The head of St Valentine was found hundreds of years later, in the early 1800s, when archaeologists were digging a catacomb near Rome. On Piazza Bocca Della Verità in Rome St Valentine’s skull still resides adorned with a wreath of flowers and a stenciled inscription.

Painting: The Victory of Eros at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1750–75. The Greek god of love, Eros, is also known as Cupid in Roman mythology. (Image: Angelica Kauffmann via Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

Cupid is the Roman god of love and affection, known as Eros in Greek mythology.

Painters from the 14th to 17th centuries often depicted Cupid as an angelic winged baby with bow and arrows. This has come to be one of the most common symbols of Valentine’s Day.

As the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Cupid’s job is to cause people to fall in love, by piercing their hearts with his arrows. But Cupid is said to be fickle. He carries two kinds of arrows so that he can easily change his mind.

Cupid’s golden arrows will make one fall in love, but his lead tipped arrows have a blunt tip and cause people to fall out of love.

The red rose is a commonly recognized symbol of love, and a frequent and meaningful gift for Valentine’s Day. (Image: Monkeystyle3000 via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

The rose and the language of flowers

Giving roses is a tradition on Valentine’s Day. No other flower expresses love and passion like the red rose.

Charlotte de Latour’s 1819 dictionary, Langage des fleurs, was published in France. In de Latour’s rose chapter, the flower is characterized as “love” and the plant is idealized. “Who that ever could sing has not sung the Rose? The poets have not exaggerated its beauty, or completed its panegyric,” she wrote. 

Victorian England and France attempted to create new rose varieties and The American Beauty rose was expanded across the northeast. Queen Victoria received this cultivar from New Jersey. It was called the “millionaire’s rose” because of its high price tag in the 1800s. Though the Victorians popularized the rose as a symbol, they weren’t the first to do so. Aspects of this phenomenon include floral language, says Amy King, associate professor of English at St. John’s University.

“I suppose it’s part of a need to give language to the wonderful world,” King wrote in an interview with TIME magazine. This urge has not faded away, even if we don’t speak flower language, we nevertheless blush when we get a bunch of roses.

To match a feeling of desire, the striking aesthetic beauty of the flower makes it an obvious choice, “parts of nature that can so readily arrest our mental attention, one might argue, is particularly suited to the expression of romance,” King posited.

“Beyond this fascination, the color of the traditional rose may play an important role in its enduring relationship with love,” Arielle Eckstut, author of The Secret Language of Color, said.  Blushing is a moment of attraction and desire. Red is also the color of the thread that ties two predestined souls to each other so they may find each other no matter how far apart they are according to ancient Chinese folk legends.

For wedding rituals even Greeks and Romans between the 4th and 5th Centuries BC adorned themselves with rose garlands. The shape and fragrance of the rose both add to its allure.

I will always be with you; without you, I am nothing

Falling in love is a beautiful adventure. It’s an experience filled with romance and passion and the sensations of butterflies in your stomach … it is more lovely than all of the hues of the ocean combined, it’s the ideal toward which we may aspire, to find that one special person with whom to build our dreams and hold close when times are lonely and tough. 

The celebration of Valentine’s Day may appear to be whimsical for many, but it is a time for couples and individuals to express or rekindle their love. The message is the same as always. Say it or sing it, any way you want to,  “Tu sei il mio amore, la mia vita,” you are my love, my life.— “Won’t you be my Valentine?”