Did you have a romantic St Valentine’s Day? If so, write in and let us know what you got up to. The most romantic account will win a copy of my ebook A Little History Of Love. (And if you got up to something truly erotic you might like to enter the Erotic Story Competition.)
Strangely enough, the romantic origins of St Valentine’s Day are not at all clear. As I explain in my ebook, St Valentine’s may date back to the ancient Roman fertility rites of Lupercalia, celebrated from February 13th – 15th. But other scholars say that there´s no mention of the romantic tradition in any books until the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400):
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan every bryd comyth there to chese his make.
Geoffrey Chaucer, Parlement of Foules (1382)
It´s not even certain which Valentine is the ‘romantic’ one. Until 1969 the Catholic Church recognized 11 different Valentine´s Days and those honoured on February 14th include Valentine of Rome, a priest martyred in AD269, as well as Valentine of Terni, a bishop martyred almost a century later.
In the 17th century the custom was not to choose a Valentine but to draw lots, and a married person was just as likely to be chosen as someone single:
I find that Mrs Pierce´s little girl is my Valentine, she having drawn me: which I was not sorry for, it easing me of something more that I must have given to others.
Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys Diary1659–69 (1970–1983)
Pepys was referring to the custom that the person who was drawn in the lottery had to give a present and not the other way around as nowadays. A present for ‘Mrs Pierce´s little girl’ was far cheaper than that for an adult woman.
By the middle of the 18th century the custom seems to have changed and it was the first single person one met on St Valentine´s morning who was destined to be not only the Valentine but also the future spouse:
Last Friday was Valentine´s Day, and the night before…if I dreamt of my sweetheart, Betty said we should be married before the year was out. We…wrote our lovers´ names upon bits of paper, and rolled them up in clay, and put them into water: and the first that rose up was to be our valentine. Would you think it? – Mr Blossom was my man. I lay a-bed and shut my eyes all the morning, till he came to our house: for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.
Robert Chambers, The Book of Days (1869)
If you’d like to buy A Little History Of Love I’m doing a special offer for the next few weeks. In the book you’ll find all kinds of fascinating anecdotes about love through the ages, from Abelard and Heloise to wooing in ancient Rome. Just click on the banner at the top of the page.