You must read Rev. Joseph Abrahamson’s post on the origins and history of St. Valentine’s Day. It’s part of his series that we’ve often linked to on Christian holidays that are mistakenly claimed to have pagan origins. He shows that St. Valentine’s Day is not based on Roman festivals but on a day commemorating the death of a Christian martyr, though which of many saints with that name is a matter of some confusion. The question, though, is how this saint’s day became associated with love and romance.
It turns out that the connection comes from one of my favorite authors, Geoffrey Chaucer!
After an extensive discussion that you should read, Rev. Abrahamson comes to this:
The first author to associate Valentine’s Day with romance was Chaucer. We are now more than a thousand years after the martyrdom of St. Valentine. Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343-1400). from The Parliament of Fowls.
309 For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
310 Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
311 Of every kinde, that men thenke may;
312 And that so huge a noyse gan they make,
313 That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake
314 So ful was, that unnethe was ther space
315 For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.
(Online Medieval and Classical Library)
The modern translation Rev. Abrahamson gives is not very good. Here is a better one:
For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,
When every fowl comes there his mate to take,
Of every species that men know, I say,
And then so huge a crowd did they make,
That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake
Was so full, that there was scarcely space
For me to stand, so full was all the place.
The Parliament of Fowls! Chaucer is writing a fable about birds, an exceedingly odd allegory about romantic love. He has the birds getting together to choose their mates. They do so at the time of year that happens to fall on St. Valentine’s Day. Their numbers fill the earth, the waters, and the trees, recalling the birds’ fertility. Later other medieval writers alluded to Chaucer’s poem in referring to human romantic love.
So Happy Valentine’s Day! (To you, especially, Jackie!)