February 14th is celebrated around the world as the day that gifts are exchanged between loved ones - all to celebrate Saint Valentine. But who is this saint and where did this tradition come from?
It is thought that St Valentines Day is a combination of both Christian and Roman traditions. The Catholic Church martyred at least three different saints named Valentine and there are several legends about the origins of Valentine's day.
One legend tells of a priest who served the church in Rome during the third century. Emperor Claudius II decreed that single men made better soldiers than soldiers who had wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young men in the army. Valentine (a priest serving around the time of Emperor Claudius) defied this decree and continued to marry young lovers in secret. Eventually Valentine's disobedience of the law was discovered and he was put to death.
Another legend talks of a man named "Valentine" who attempted to help Christians escape the harsh treatment which was meted out to them by the Romans at that time. He was imprisoned for his actions and while in jail, fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. It is said that he wrote her letters signed "From Your Valentine" - an expression which is still used today.
Other theories regarding the origins of Valentine's Day suggest that it is an effort to "Christianise" the pagan celebration of "Lupercalia'. This celebration was originally known as a Roman cleansing ritual called "Februa" held on the 15th of Feburary (which is were the word "February" has come from). This eventually morphed into the festival of "Lupercalia" which was a fertility ritual dedicated to Faunus - the Roman God of agriculture.
February 14th - declared
It was in the 5th century when Pope Gelasius formally declared that February 14th was to be celebrated as Saint Valentine's Day.
Geoffrey Chaucer' wrote a poem around 1382 titled "Parlement of Foules" which read:
“For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make”
When translated into modern English it means: "this was on Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate". February 14th was generally accepted in Europe as the beginning of bird mating season and started to came to be symbolise a day of romance.
Written Valentine's notes began to appear around the 1400s and the oldest known valentine, which is now held by the British Library in London, was composed by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
The note is written in his native language of French but translates to:
I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine, Since for me you were born too soon, And I for you was born too late. God forgives him who has estranged Me from you for the whole year. I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine.
Commercially printed cards
The oldest known printed Valentine's card was published in January 1797 and includes a verse which is printed around the edges, which reads:
"Since on this ever Happy day, All Nature's full of Love and Play Yet harmless still if my design, 'Tis but to be your Valentine."
By the middle 1800s is was common for lovers of all classes to exchange tokens of love and handwritten notes. It is recorded that in 1835, approximately 60,000 Valentine's Day cards were posted in Britain alone.
As printing presses became more common, increasingly sophisticated and cheaper to produce printed cards - the Valentine's Day card really gained momentum. Together with penny postage stamps making cards cheap to send, by 1840 over 400,000 cards per year were being posted.
Valentine's Day in modern times
Today the heart is symbolic of Valentine's Day and it appears on everything from cards to boxes of chocolates.
Gift Ideas for Valentine's Day
While traditional gifts of chocolates and flowers accompanied, with a Valentine's Day card, are still widely used, many people prefer something a little more permanent -such as jewellery. Jewellery in the shape of a heart (such as the stunning earrings shown here) are always a winner on Valentine's Day. Who can resist opening a special box and seeing gorgeous jewellery sparkling up from a lovely jewellery box.