The History Behind Valentine's Day

What's with the hearts and naked winged angels? Who thought up all this stuff?

Valentine's Day instantly brings to mind flowers and chocolates and the color red, all symbolizing romantic love. However, the holiday's namesake wasn't so much of a lover. In fact, very little is known about him at all.

According to Tia Kolbaba, associate professor of religion at Rutgers University, who specializes in early Medieval history and the bible's New Testament, Saint Valentine originally did not have any connection to romantic love.

A Roman martyr early in Christian history, very little is known about the saint whose name has become synonymous with red roses and chocolate, Kolbaba said.

In the late 14th century, the famous author Geoffrey Chaucer connected Saint Valentine's day with the coming of spring and birds mating in a poem called "Parlement of Foules."

From there a "cult of love" began to take root, she said.

"We get this rush of love and romance coming out of those centuries," Kolbaba said.

Around the 18th century, people got into the habit of sending cards to their loved ones, and the modern form of Valentine's Day was formed.

So where does Cupid fit into all of this?

Cupid, or Eros, as he is known to the Greeks, and Amore, or "Love" in Latin, is the god of erotic love, Kolbaba said. His introduction to the holiday is kind of unclear, but the two met somewhere in the middle ages.

"There's this moment in the late middle ages when romantic love and Valentine's Day...get attached," Kolbaba said.

Saint Valentine's feast day was removed from the Catholic Church's official list of feast days, but is still celebrated in spots around the world.

As a result, Valentine's Day grew, but without the support of the Catholic church, Kolbaba said.

The secular holiday is now best known for its celebration of love and affection.

This article was originally published on Feb. 7, 2012.


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