of Terni. A bishop of Terni, suffered martyrdom (beheaded) on this
day, about 270 A.D. His body was buried on the via Flaminia where, in
the 4th century, were graves of two martyrs. Although
the Roman Martyrologium assumes that there were two
martyrs, there may have been only one person.1
association of fertility and spring renewal with this season harkens back
to the 3rd century B.C. with the Roman celebration of Lupercalia, a
festival celebrating the deity Lupercus, identified with Pan, the Greek
god. In Christ's time, the Luperci priests still danced in the
streets on their festival day, February 15th.
14th century France, the Miracles de Notre Dame par personages,
were performed annually by the Paris goldsmith guild, include saints'
plays, including one about Saint Valentin.2
is no clear connection with lovers or birds until Otto
de Granson & Geoffrey Chaucer wrote Valentine
poetry. Granson (1346-1397) was a landed knight and amateur
poet in the service of John of Gaunt after 1374; his extant
works include seven Valentine poems. Chaucer also features
Valentine's Day in several of his poems, most notably, his Parliament of Fowls
(ca. 1380) is "the book of Seint Valentynes Day."3
studies by Henry
Kelly and Jack Oruch, the connection of Valentine's Day with the
pairing of lovers was unknown before Granson and Chaucer; they
virtually originated the occasion as we know it. Granson seems
to be the first to write love poems for Valentine's Day, before
1374, while Chaucer pioneered the crucial involvement of birds in
scholarly research has revealed comparatively little in the legend of the
saint to connect him with lovers. Yet it may be significant that
Granson's Balade de Saint Valentin double, which could be the
earliest of these poems, makes the most extensive reference in any of them
to the saint and his feast. The speaker begins by noting that he
chose his lady seven and a half years ago, and declares that on this day
he once again chooses her; he invokes the day and the saint in the
fourth stanza, which he addresses to Valentine.
Throughout the poem there is no mention of mating birds.3
states, in Parliament of Fowls, that his assembly of birds occurred:
"on seynt Volantynys day When euery byrd comyth there to chese
his make" and he makes clear that Nature summons them each year on
that day for that purpose. At the conclusion his birds also address
the saint in heaven, "Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte,"
professing to sing for his sake.
Granson's last poem Songe Saint
Valentin, probably after Chaucer, also mentions the birds. The
next English poems after Chaucer are by John Gower (1325-1408) and Sir
Thomas Clanvowe; they speak of the day when birds choose their mates,
however, birds do not figure in the next French Valentinian verse, that of Christine
de Pisan (1364-1430) and Jean de Garencières.3
famous 15th century references include:
10 February, 1477, Dame Elizabeth Brews wrote to John Paston III:
"Cousin, I recommend me to you, thanking you heartily for the
great cheer that you made me and all my folk the last time that I
was at Norwich . . . and cousin, on Friday is St. Valentine's Day
and every bird chooses for himself a mate . . ."
Brews (Elizabeth's daughter) to John Paston III [Topcroft, February
1477]: "Right reverend and worshipful and my right well beloved
valentine, I recommend me unto you, full heartily desiring to hear
of your welfare, which I beseech Almighty God long to preserve to
his pleasure and to your heart's desire. And, if it please you
to hear of my welfare, I am not in good health of body nor heart,
nor shall I be until I hear from you: For there knows no creature
what pain I endure, / and I should rather die than dare it
gives us, in the 16th century, as Ophelia's song:
is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a
maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber- door;
in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
will do't, if they come to't;
By cock, they are to blame.
she, before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.
So would I
ha' done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.
Diary, in the 17th century, records the custom of drawing lots
with the name of the person upon whom one would bestow a gift, and a
motto, such as: "Most Courteous & Most Faire". One
superstition held that the first unmarried person of the other sex
that one met on this morning in walking abroad, was a destined spouse.6
By the 18th century young folks were setting their names down
on 'billets' to be drawn by each sex to choose their Valentine.
The men then treated their chosen one to 'balls and treats', and this
little sport often ends in love.6
19th century sees the love-token turned into a card, preferably
with hearts and lace and sentimental verse, a fashion which has not
quite worn out. Charles Lamb pities the poor postmen staggering
under their load.7
Valentine's Day is heralded in by the appearance in the printsellers'
shop windows of vast numbers of missives calculated for use on this
occasion, each generally a single sheet of post paper, on which is
seen some ridiculous coloured caricature of the male or female figure,
with a few burlesque verses below. More rarely, the print is of
a sentimental kind, such as a view of Hymen's altar, with a pair
undergoing initiation into wedded happiness before it, while cupid
flutters above, and hearts transfixed with his darts decorate the
Encyclopedia of Saints, Alpine Fine Arts Collection, Ltd.,
2William Kibler & Grover Zinn, eds., Medieval France, an
Encyclopedia, Garland Publishing, NY & London, 1995
and His French Contemporaries, University of Toronto Press, 1991
Act IV, scene 5
Kerr Cameron The English Year, Sutton Publishing Ltd., Phoenix
Mill, Gloucestershire, 1998
Blackburn & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the
Year, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999