Shoppers choose chocolate in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi) (Credit: Shizuo Kambayashi)
On Feb. 14, sweethearts of all ages will exchange cards, flowers, candy, and more lavish gifts in the name of St. Valentine. But as a historian of Christianity, I can tell you that at the root of our modern holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love.
Valentine’s Day, in fact, originated as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So, how did we get from beheading to betrothing on Valentine’s Day?
Early origins of St. Valentine
Ancient sources reveal that there were several St. Valentines who died on Feb. 14. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., at a time when persecution of Christians was common.
How do we know this? Because, an order of Belgian monks spent three centuries collecting evidence for the lives of saints from manuscript archives around the known world.
They were called Bollandists after Jean Bolland, a Jesuit scholar who began publishing the massive 68-folio volumes of “Acta Sanctorum,” or “Lives of the Saints,” beginning in 1643.
Since then, successive generations of monks …read more