Wednesday, February 14, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 96



He lost his head for romance

Wendy Miller

Chaucer wrote in his Parliament of Foules: "For this was sent on Seynt Valentyneis day/Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate."

Valentineis Day: The name conjures up images of hearts, candy and exchanging cards in grade school.

Why is Feb. 14 special? Who was St. Valentine?

Was it chosen by the modern greeting card and flower industry? Actually, Feb. 14 has historical links dating back to Roman times.

It was given preference as the day before the Roman feast of Lupercalia, a pagan love festival. In 496, Pope Gelasius changed Lupercalia from Feb. 15 to 14 in an attempt to stop the pagan celebration.

The church ultimately decided that there was nothing wrong with celebrating love. It was the pagan elements that "insulted" God, so Lupercalia was out and Saint Valentine (the patron saint of lovers) was in.

Why is today devoted to Valentine? Depending on the sources, a variety of interpretations exist.

One book told me that the legend actually combines the lives of two different men named Valentine. Another book offered that it was actually two different legends about the same man. A third source provided the answer that there were three men named Valentine. 

The person in question might have been Saint Valentine, a Christian martyr who died in 269. He was a priest who lived during the rule of Emperor Claudius II.

Rome at this time was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns, and Claudius had trouble gathering soldiers for his military leagues.

He believed the problem arose because Roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.

Saint Valentine and Saint Marius continued to secretly marry couples. For this deed Valentine was brought before the Prefect of Rome and condemned to be beaten to death with clubs and then have his head cut off.

He suffered martyrdom on Feb. 14.

History says that, while in jail, Valentine fell in love with the jaileris blind daughter and miraculously restored her sight.

He supposedly sent her a farewell note before his execution (she had evidently learned to read quickly) signed "From Your Valentine."

Was this the true origin of the practice of exchanging Valentineis Day cards?

The Roman festival of Lupercalia included putting the girlsi names in a box and letting the boys draw them out. These couples allegedly became paired off for the whole year.

A similar practice happened in the 14th century, but this sweetheart (chosen by lot) was only yours for a day. It was done to correspond with the belief that the springtime mating of birds took place around Feb. 14. 

Specially printed cards for Valentines were common by the 1780s. Freundschaftkarten, or "friendship cards" as they are known in Germany, are wonderful ways to tell the one you love how you feel for $3.95.

Miller, a senior philosophy major, is receiving 
Valentine e-mails at

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