The Truth (?) Behind That Heart

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Love is in the air or at least some hope it will be. With Spring just around the corner, the month of February is often seen not only as President’s Month but also as that part of the year were couples show each other their affections in a special way by asking, “Will you be my Valentine?”

Every February 14, across the United States and around the world from primary school classes, the movie screen, songs, and commercials Valentines Day is celebrated to some degree but it has morphed to what it is today. This is all done in memory of St. Valentine but who exactly was this individual, and how has the day been celebrated from ancient Rome to Victorian England to the present?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, each one a martyr.

One legend states that Valentine was a priest who served during third century Rome.

When Emperor Claudius II believed that single men made better Roman legionaries than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men.

Valentine defied the Emperor and continued to perform marriages in secret. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered his death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for helping Christians escape Roman persecution.

In another legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” himself after he fell in love with a young girl who visited him and who may have been the jailor’s daughter. Before his death, he supposedly wrote a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is shadowed all emphasize him as a romantic, hero type character.

By the Middle Ages, Valentine had become one of the most popular saints in England and France though written valentines did not appear until after 1400.

The oldest known valentine still in existence was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. It is now part of the manuscript collection in the British Library in London, England.

Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

By the middle of the 18th century, it was common in all social classes to exchange tokens of affection or handwritten notes.

By 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of a person’s feelings was discouraged.

Some evidence shows that Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s.

In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year after Christmas. And it is not surprising that females purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

In addition to the United States, the Huffington Post reports that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in some form in South Africa, Brazil, Italy, Philippines, China, South Korea, Canada, Mexico,  the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, and Australia.