Historical story

Valentine's Day Through the Ages

A red rose for your loved one. A romantic candlelight dinner. On February 14 it was Valentine's Day again. But where does this tradition actually come from?

Long, long ago (in the year 270 AD to be exact) there once lived a Roman. It was a young Roman. His name was Valentine. His job? Priest. He lived at a time when the Romans were fighting a fierce battle with the Goths. Emperor Claudius II could not spare any man in this battle. The emperor made high demands on his warriors.

He forbade his soldiers to marry. The thoughts of wife and home would only distract. One day a young couple came to see Father Valentijn. The man was a heathen soldier. The woman is a faithful Christian. Could Valentine not marry these lovers? Contrary to the laws of Emperor Claudius II, the priest married the two. This news soon spread throughout the Roman Empire. More and more couples in love knocked on Valentine's door.

But the emperor also heard the news. He ordered his soldiers to arrest and lead the “priest of love.” Once before the emperor, Valentine tried to convert the emperor. Claudius II felt insulted to the bone. He ordered Valentine to be tortured. That's how it happened. The soldiers tortured Valentine for hours. But the priest didn't flinch. The soldiers saw only one solution:beheading! Just before his head fell, the believer managed to hand a note to the daughter of one of the prison guards. “From your Valentine!” When did this tragedy take place? On February 14!


Sources mention a variant of this tragedy. According to these sources, Father Valentijn would have been famous for a different reason. The story goes that Valentine was a true Good Samaritan. He cared for the sick, the elderly and the poor. He also healed the blind foster daughter of Asterius, governor of Rome. Asterius would have been so happy that he converted to Christianity. After this, the governor would have freed all Christian prisoners from the prisons. Reason for Emperor Claudius II to have priest Valentine beheaded. When? On February 14!

A variation on this story is set in prison. Priest Valentijn had already been handcuffed by then. A jailer (or governor of Rome) asked Valentine to heal his blind daughter. The prisoner concocted a cure, but in vain. After Valentine's beheading, the blind girl received a note. A yellow flower fell from the note. Valentine used to give his patients a yellow flower. The note read:"From your Valentine!" Legend has it that the girl could see right away. Her father converted to Christianity.


The stories about the young Valentine are one of the stories about the origin of Valentine's Day. Another explanation also dates back to Roman times. Every year on February 15 (!) the Romans celebrated the feast Lupercalia. At the center was the fertility goddess Februa (or Juno). Worshiping priests took to the streets dressed in goatskins. They beat the women they encountered with a goatskin belt. This painful act would promote the fertility of the women.

An important part of this Lupercalia took place near the caves where Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of the city of Rome) were raised by a she-wolf. In this place, priests threw the names of the unmarried women of Rome into a large bowl. One by one the unmarried men pulled out a name. The young people assigned to each other by this lottery went through life as partners for the duration of the party. Many a virginity was lost. A tradition that was followed in France well into the twentieth century.

Historians within and outside the folk tradition have attempted to associate our Valentine's Day with this strange Roman tradition. But they never managed to find hard evidence.

Saint Valentine

With the spread of Christianity throughout Europe in the early Middle Ages, the aversion to these festivals from the church increased. “Pagan scenes,” monks and priests called it. Fathers of the Church tried to bring the Valentine's feasts within the church doctrine. How? By attaching the name of Saint Valentine to it. In 496 Pope Gelasius I proclaimed February 14 as the holy day of Saint Valentine.

Centuries later, English emigrants introduced Valentine's Day to America. The Americans saw a trade in it. They exploited Valentine's Day. From America, the tradition of Valentine's Day spread to the rest of the world. Likewise to the Netherlands. Valentine's Day has not left the Netherlands since then. That is why we now surprise our beloved on February 14 with a red rose or a romantic candlelight dinner.