Flowers, candy, being beaten to death with clubs, chasing women around Rome with bloody strips of goatskin…that’s right, it’s Valentines Day!
How does almost 2000 years of violence, and romance come together to make our modern Hallmark holiday? Let’s start with the holiday’s namesake: Valentine of Rome. Like a lot of things that happened in the 3rd Century the details around Valentine’s life (and death) are a bit sketchy. His legend is probably a combination of a couple different Valentines, and some parts are definitely made up. See if you can guess which parts!
Being a Christian was officially illegal under Roman rule at the time, but it was possible to fly under the radar. Valentine however chose an especially dangerous way to express his faith. The Emperor, Claudius II (AKA Claudius the Cruel), forbid his soldiers from getting married thinking they’d be better fighters without the distraction of wives and kids to worry about. Valentine, that romantic, defied the law and married Christian soldiers secretly. Or kind of secretly because he was caught, and thrown in jail. While in prison, Valentine miraculously restored the vision of his jailor’s blind daughter, converting the whole family to Christianity in
Despite performing this medical miracle, Valentine wasn’t off the hook for the secret marriages, and for refusing to renounce his faith despite some pretty intense torture. On February 14th 269 CE he was stoned, then beaten to death with clubs. Then beheaded for good measure. On the morning of his execution he supposedly wrote a farewell message to the jailor’s now sighted daughter signed, “From your Valentine.” SOUND FAMILIAR?
What about the animal skins? St. Valentine may also have become associated with romance because his martyrdom coincided with the Roman holiday Lupercalia, a drunken, naked celebration of sex, romance and fertility. During Lupercalia Pagan men ran through the city whipping young women with the flayed skin of freshly sacrificed animals. This slapping, which the women supposedly enjoyed, was believed to encourage fertility. The men would also each draw the name of an available woman from a jar with whom they would be matched (sexually) for the duration of the holiday.
So buy your chocolates, and valentines, but if you want to go hardcore traditionalist consider performing a clandestine marriage, or sacrificing a goat! Caveat: I do not recommend chasing a 21st century woman around with that goat’s bloody skin. Not all women want to encourage fertility, and also it’s disgusting.
Hallie Fryd is the author of Martyrdom: The Coloring Book.