An American Valentine's Day card from 1908: Which Valentine does the day get its name from?
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When lovers pamper each other with flowers and other presents on February 14th, they are invoking St. Valentine. But exactly which historical figure he is will probably never be clarified.
In the register of saints there are three martyrs named Valentine listed under February 14th. One is said to have been a Roman priest, the second a bishop of the Italian province of Terni - although these two Valentines could also be one and the same. The third is said to have suffered with Christian martyrs in Africa.
It is most common to see Valentine, who worked as a priest or bishop in Rome or Terni, as the patron saint of lovers. However, the sources for his life are unclear, but Valentine was probably murdered in the third century.
A legend says that he rebelled against Emperor Claudius II by illegally marrying young couples according to Christian ceremonies. He is also said to have given them flowers afterwards - the marriages had a reputation for being particularly harmonious. According to other stories, a blind girl regained her sight after receiving a flower wrapped in paper with the inscription "from your Valentine" from the condemned priest.
Valentine's Day was already sung about in Shakespeare's "Hamlet".
While the exact history of Valentine's Day is unclear, what is clear is the saint's long veneration. Already in the Middle Ages he was one of the popular saints in Italy, and customs surrounding Valentine's Day also spread in France and England - you can read about it in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet", where Ophelia sings about Valentine's Day.
Another explanation for February 14th as Lovers' Day is more of a power-political one: the church specifically attacked the pagan customs in ancient Rome. There, February 14th was celebrated in honor of the goddess Juno, the protector of marriage and family. Women traditionally received flowers on this day. This custom survived - only now it runs under the church Valentine's Day instead of under the Juno label.
Valentine's Day is now widespread worldwide. Even in ultra-conservative Muslim Saudi Arabia, it is increasingly being celebrated, although the day is not allowed to be called that. This leads to bizarre contortions in public life (read more about this here).