Saint Valentine and Ancient Rome …


Romance is not just for the very young, stricken with the first crush, but for all romantics- young, old, the great dreamers and even the unsuspecting  sceptics, hit by cupids arrow. In short, calendar in hand, it is useless to deny that in a few weeks St. Valentines Day will be upon us.

As usual, we are already privy to the first adverts and commercials insinuating there way to our collective conscience,  yet  despite this intrusion,  in reality many of us are  truly dedicated to this date.

The officially established date universally recognised as Valentine’s Day  is the 14th of February.  Also known as the Love Feast. A date which is impossible to escape. Lets look at the origins of this date  before the Ad Men took over.


Between history and legend: from Ancient Rome. . .

The  elegance and beauty of a preciousness rose

It seems that the  Saint Valentine tradition derives from a number of myths and legends around the rites of Spring celebrated in the Italian city of Terni, dating  back to pre- Roman  times. February  was an important month because it was considered the month of rebirth, with spring coming, the festivals celebrated the  rites of purification which were believed to bring  luck and fertility. The festivals paid homage to the god Lupercus, with the festival  Lupercalia. The Lupercalia festival was partly in honour of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans,  Romulus and Remus   said to be the founders of Rome.  Lupercus was an important god to shepherds because he was believed to protect the sheep from the wolves.  In a sign of fertility, during the celebrations, the blood of  animals was shed, but there was another ritual for the population,  a love lottery in with a ballot box in which the names of men and women were entered. They were subsequently extracted by a child  and pairs of men and women were matched! The couples  would then live together and hopefully be fruitful, honouring the rites of fertility, and the  god. Every year the ritual would be repeated.

Valentine’s Day coincides with the attempt of the Ancient Fathers of the Church  to “Christianise” this pagan practice which was considered unethical.  So they attempted to  replace the god Lupercus a patron saint of lovers, with the martyred Bishop Valentino of Tenri, with the help of  by Pope Gelasius  in 496 A.D.  the  bishops, insertied the martyred priest Valentine as patron Saint. Soon the day became a symbol of christian universal brotherly  love and protection. Valentine’s Day is celebrated everywhere. If not exactly as originally intended.

. . . to literature. . .

 St. Valentine’s celebration can as well be recognised thanks to the writers circle of Geoffrey Chaucer, the famous English author, often referred to as the father of English literature, whose work ” the Canterbury Tales “, “is comparable to Boccaccio’s The Decameron. Indeed Geoffrey Chaucer would have associated, in his poem, this anniversary to the engagement of Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. No coincidence that in both France and England in the Middle Ages, mid-February coincides  with the natural mating ritual of  birds, which is perfectly in line with the consecration of 14 February.


Valentine’s Day around the world: traditions and curiosities

A characteristic feature of the Anglo-Saxon countries that dates back to the nineteenth century, is the exchange of cards with the symbols and images of romantic love. Hearts, cupid and doves adorning the “Valentine”. It is said that Charles of Orleans was the first to send  the oldest Valentine to his wife, from the Tower of London, where he was detained, after the defeat of the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Then in mid-nineteenth century, the tradition  became popular in the USA with the help of artist and business woman Esther Howland who started a Valentines Day card business.

Traditions in Valentine’s Day are numerous: we do a tour around the world to the most curious.

Heart-shape the international  symbol of love and affection

In the US, for example, many  celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving flowers, chocolates and jewellery. In Spain is all about  roses. In Kenya it is traditional  that women give their her spouses a gourd full of palm wine in exchange for receiving a piece of lime bread; later the two lovers drink together from the cup of Love. In Hungary there is the custom in which  young men and women venture into the forest and collect special flowers called snowdrops, which they give to their beloved. In Wales it is a tradition to give  carved wooden spoons. In other traditions  love is shown through tests of courage, athleticism or dance rituals, as in Brazil or some tribes in Niger, where the woman chooses a beloved  in a dance competition.  In Japan the protagonist is the  woman, because it is the woman who offers chocolates in a gift to man, that it is represented by a beloved but also from a friend or colleague. But this act does not remain isolated, typical of Japanese culture: those who received the chocolates for Valentine’s Day will have, then, a month later, reciprocate with white chocolate, the so-called White Day, in fact. To avoid misunderstandings, there are two types of chocolates: the Honmei Choco which is only given to the guy that you are in love, and Giri Choco, linked to feelings of friendship and gratitude. For those left high and dry, will have no choice but to share spaghetti with squid ink with fellow single comrades  on the Black Day the day falling on April 14th. China offers one  of the most romantic of lovers feast traditions,  where the anniversary falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, a date linked to a legend. Legend has it, in fact, of a love between a fairy and a mortal, an impossible love because it separated by the Milky Way. The story goes that every year, on the same day, the lovers manage to meet again, crossing a bridge built with the help of a flock of birds just to help the two lovers, they created a direct link between the earth and the Milky Way. So are you a romantic? Are  flowers and jewellery are extremely trivial a classic gift for your  Valentine’s party.  In what way you decide to communicate in the most romantic day of the year?

Of course we here at Rocks & Co have a few ideas!