Chaucer, mating birds, a fertility festival: Valentine’s Day

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
— Chaucer, Parlement of Foules, c.1381

Valentine is a name (usually masculine) derived from the Roman family name Valentinus, which in turn comes from the Latin word valens meaning “strong, vigorous and healthy”. Valentine was the name of several saints of the Roman Catholic Church. As an English Christian name, Valentine has been used occasionally since the 12th century; it was first recorded as a given name in Wiltshire’s Curia Rolls in 1198 — as Valentinus. The surname was first recorded in the mid 13th century.

How did St. Valentine’s Day (on February 14) come to be associated with romantic love? It certainly has nothing to do with the name Valentine itself.  There was a Saint Valentine, a 3rd-century saint and martyr ,whose feast day fell on February 14 — a day before the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia that was observed on February 15. With the rise of Christianity in Europe, pagan holidays were often renamed for and even moved to the feast days of early Christian martyrs in order to boost participation and involvement in church occasions, so it’s possible that the fertility festival and Valentine’s feast day became one — and so assumed the notions of romantic love associated with mating and fertility.

As Chaucer wrote in his Parlement of Foules in the late 14th century, Valentines was the day in early spring on which birds would choose their mates; some argue that this was the reason for Valentine’s Day — named after the saint and his feast day — to be thought of as one of love.

 

 

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