1 min

Forbidden marriages at heart of Valentine’s Day

Credit: Karen Rodgers

Romance was, of course, a Roman invention… at least when it comes to Valentine’s Day. The Greeks might have messed around a little before then, but it was the Romans who established – in good and orderly Roman style – the date.

The Feast of Lupercal (Feb 15) honoured the Roman god of fertility. A ritual held that young men drew names by lot on the eve of Lupercalia (Feb 14). The partner whose name was drawn would be his sweetheart for the whole year.

That might be how it all started, but it didn’t take long for cracks to appear in the Romans’ carefully constructed ritual. Even breeders know fertility is just a convenient excuse and that true romance is more… let’s say… esoteric.

Feb 14 quickly became more closely associated with Venus – the Roman goddess of love – and her naughty little son Cupid, who runs around pricking naughty little humans with his naughty little arrows.

The official story is that Valentine’s Day is reputed to have taken its name from Bishop Valentine. He was a priest in Rome when Claudius the Cruel, who took his name from his “Christian” feelings, ruled. Valentine performed Christian conversions and marriages, though Claudius had forbidden them. When Valentine was imprisoned, he converted the convicts to Christianity. And Claudius rewarded Valentine’s indomitable spirit by cutting off his head.

Prior to his beheading, Valentine had sent his final note to a young woman he had fallen in love with in prison and signed it, Your Valentine. This is reputed to be the source of the traditional exchange of “secret valentines.”