We’ve Got the Wrong Valentine!


From http://www.reverendfun.com/?date=20030212

From http://www.reverendfun.com/?date=20030212

For those of you who may want to impress your “Valentine” today over dinner, this might help. But beware! You have to know if a historical anecdote might be the last thing she (or he) wants to hear on this special day.

I extracted the info below from a sermon, “God’s Love: A Still More Excellent Way,” based on 1 Corinthians 13, which I preached on February 13, 2011. You can read the rest of the sermon here.


St. Valentine was actually so named from two Christian martyrs named Valentinus honored on February 14: Valentinus of Terni, martyred around A.D. 197 under Emperor Aurelian; and Valentinus of Rome, martyred about A.D. 269 by Emperor Claudius II. Tradition says that Valentinus of Rome was arrested by Claudius II who tried to convert him to Roman paganism. But Valentinus chose a martyr’s death rather than renounce his Christian faith. So how did these martyrs both named Valentinus get connected with romantic roses, chocolate and corny love notes? Many historians have offered answers, but the relationship is shrouded in mystery.

My favorite explanation is the one suggested by Henry Ansgar Kelly, a medieval scholar at the University of California in Los Angeles. Kelly’s theory takes us back to the 14th century when the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem, “The Parliament of Fowles,”  in honor of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia on May 3, 1381. In it, he mentioned “Saint Valentine’s Day”:

For this was Saint Valentine’s Day,
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343-1400) as a pilgrim from the Ellesmere manuscript

Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343-1400) as a pilgrim from the Ellesmere manuscript

The poem has many parallels between human courtship and the mating rituals of birds. Chaucer associated the May 3rd date with the feast day of another Valentinus: Valentinus of Genoa, Italy. This resulted in the connection between love birds and St. Valentine’s Day on February 14 because readers of Chaucer’s poem mistakenly thought that he was referring to Valentinus of Rome whose feast day was February 14, when in fact, he had Valentinus of Genoa in mind, whose feast day was May 3.

In the modern era, American Greetings, a greeting card company, embellished the connection with another tall tale for obvious profitable motives. On the night before his execution, Valentinus of Rome wrote the first “valentine” card addressed to a young girl he loved and signed it, “From your Valentine”!

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