Courtesy of the Dawah Center of Houston, TX
St. Valentine’s Day: 5th Century Rome
“…The Catholic Church’s attempt to paper over a popular pagan fertility rite with the clubbing death and decapitation of one of its own martyrs is the origin of this lovers’ holiday.
As early as the fourth century BC, the Romans engaged in an annual young man’s rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The names of teenage women were placed in a box and drawn at random by adolescent men; thus, a man was assigned a woman companion, for their mutual entertainment and pleasure (most often sexual), for the duration of a year, after which another lottery was staged.
Determined to put an end to this 800-year-old practice, the early church fathers sought a “lovers” saint to replace the deity Lupercus. They found a likely candidate in Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred some two hundred years earlier.
In Rome in AD 270, Valentine had enraged the mad emperor Claudius II, who had issued an edict forbidding marriage. Claudius felt that married men made poor soldiers, because they were loath to leave their families for battle. The empire needed soldiers, so Claudius, never one to fear unpopularity, abolished marriage.
Valentine, bishop of Interamna, invited young lovers to come to him in secret, where he joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. Claudius learned of this “friend of lovers,” and had the bishop brought to the palace. The emperor impressed with the young priest’s dignity and conviction, attempted to convert him to the Roman gods, to save him from otherwise certain execution. Valentine refused to renounce Christianity and imprudently attempted to convert the emperor. On February 24, 270, Valentine was clubbed, stoned, then beheaded.
History also claims that while Valentine was in prison awaiting execution, he fell in love with the blind daughter of the jailer, Asterius. Through his unswerving faith, he miraculously restored her sight. He signed a farewell message to her “From Your Valentine,” a phrase that would live long after its author died.
From the Church’s standpoint, Valentine seemed to be the ideal candidate to usurp the popularity of Lupercus. So in AD 496, a stern Pope Gelasius outlawed the mid-February Lupercian festival. But he was clever enough to retain the lottery, aware of Romans’ love for games of chance. Now into the box that had once held the names of available and willing single women were placed the names of saints. Both men and women extracted slips of paper, and in the ensuing year they were expected to emulate the life of the saint whose name they had drawn. Admittedly, it was a different game, with different incentives; to expect a woman and draw a saint must have disappointed many a Roman male. The spiritual overseer of the entire affair was its patron saint, Valentine. With reluctance, and the passage of time, more and more Romans relinquished their pagan festival and replaced it with the Church’s holy day.
Cupid is the most famous of Valentine symbols. He is known as mischievous Jinn disguised as a winged child armed with bow and arrows. In western culture he shot darts of desire into the bosoms of both pretend gods and humans causing them to all deeply in love. Cupid has always played a role in the celebrations of love and lovers. In ancient Greece he was know as Eros the young son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. To the Roman’s he was Cupid, and his mother was Venus.
A long time ago, people in Europe believed that all the emotions were found in the heart. In later years, they thought only the emotion of love was connected with the heart. The heart is still a symbol of love for Valentine’s Day.
The rose was the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Red is a color that stands for strong feelings. This is why the red rose is a flower for Valentine’s.
Hundreds of years ago, women in Europe carried lace handkerchiefs. If a woman dropped her handkerchief, a man nearby might pick it up and return it to her. Sometimes a woman might see a man she wanted to flirt and meet. She might drop her lace handkerchief on purpose to encourage romance. Soon people thought of romance when they thought of lace. They began using paper lace to decorate chocolate boxes and Valentine cards.
Years ago in western countries when a man proposed marriage to a woman, he “asked for her hand.” The hand became symbol of marriage and love. Soon gloves also became a symbol of love at Valentines.
In most European countries, men and women exchange rings when they become engaged or marry. Two or three hundred years ago, Valentine’s Day was a popular day for giving an engagement ring. An engagement ring usually had a stone or jewel set in it. Diamonds are common in today’s engagement rings following closely behind these ancient pagan rituals.
Lovebirds & Doves
Lovebirds are colorful parrots found in most stores imported from Africa. Most have red bills. They are called lovebirds because they sit closely together in pairs. Doves were thought to be favorite birds of Venus. They remain with the same mates all their lives. The males and females both care for their babies. Because these birds are symbols of loyalty and love, they were adopted as symbols for Valentine’s Day.
Traditionally, mid-February was a Roman time to meet and court prospective mates. The Lupercian lottery (under penalty of mortal sin), Roman young men did institute the custom of offering women they admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. The cards acquired St. Valentine’s name…
As Christianity spread, so did the Valentine’s Day card. Charles, duke of Orleans sent the earliest extant card in 1415, to his wife while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. It is now in the British Museum. In the sixteenth century, St. Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva, attempted to expunge the custom of cards and reinstate the lottery of saints’ names. He felt that Christians had become wayward and needed models to emulate. However, this lottery was less successful and shorter-lived than Pope Gelasius’s was. And rather than disappearing, cards proliferated and became more decorative. Cupid, the naked cherub armed with arrows dipped in love potion, became a popular valentine image. He was associated with the holiday because in Roman mythology he is the son of Venus, goddess of love and beauty.
By the seventeenth century, handmade cards were oversized and elaborate, while store-bought ones were smaller and costly. In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian. The burgeoning number of obscene valentines caused several countries to ban the practice of exchanging cards. In Chicago, for instance, late in the nineteenth century, the post office rejected some twenty-five thousand cards on the ground that they were not fit to be carried through the U.S. mail. The first American publisher of valentines was printer and artist Esther Howland. Her elaborate lace cards of the 1870’s cost from five to ten dollars, with some selling for as much as thirty-five dollars. Since that time, the valentine card business has flourished. With the exception of Christmas, Americans exchange more cards on Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year…” (Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things , New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1987), 50-52
- Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1987), 50-52.
The above stories are quoted from Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, Charles Panati, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, NY 1987 PP 50-52 It is extremely important for Muslim parents, grand parents and teachers to understand and explain the real motives and cultural roots of current so-called modern celebrations. The explanation is due to our beloved youth and our selves whenever the subject is brought up. It is quit evident that the western culture we converted from was and is totally engulfed in modified paganism. Compared to the Hadith about the Virtues of the Muslim months we can no longer allow our children and grandchildren to accept these seminally joyous holidays. We must fully embrace as much Fard, Sunnah, Mustahab and Nafl as expression of our love and commitment to our Rabb. The root of all of western holidays (HOLY DAYS) and festivals are dependent not on the Torah or the Injil but on the concoction of Paul’s usurpation of Nabi Isa’s (alaihis-salaam) teachings. Logically when the reasoning people of western culture saw through the antics of the Catholic Church they rejected religion totally. Now we see the results in today’s Neo-pagan life style. May Allah continue to allow us to follow His beloved Nabi (Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).