Celebrating St Valentine                

Love was in the air on St Valentine’s Day as residents at The Chiswick gathered to toast one another, sing some favourite romantic songs and reminisce about sweethearts past and present.

Of course, we all know that February 14 is St Valentine’s Day…but what do we really know about the history of the day and why it became a celebration of love?

The true answer is ‘not much’ as there is scant historical evidence. The roots are thought to lie in a pagan fertility festival called ‘Lupercalia’ which was celebrated on 13-15 February in ancient Rome. 

In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared 14 February as St. Valentine’s Day to honour the saint of that name as he believed ‘Lupercalia’ to be ‘un-Christian’. Exactly which St Valentine he meant is uncertain as there was more than one.  A likely possibility is a priest who was martyred about 270 by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to legend, Valentine signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, had cured of blindness.

St. Valentine’s Day did not generally become a celebration of love until the Middle Ages. Indeed, Geoffrey Chaucer, author of ‘The Canterbury Tales’ makes reference to a special day for love in one of his poems, in which he also mentions St Valentine. 

Formal love messages began to be exchanged in the 1500s and by the late 1700s commercial cards were in production. 

St. Valentine’s Day is now celebrated in many countries of the world and several have their own special traditions. Did you know that in Norfolk, especially around Norwich, the mysterious Jack Valentine visits houses on 13 February, the eve of St Valentine’s and, under cover of dark, leaves gifts on doorsteps? These are not just for lovers but for people of all generations. So if you woke up on 14 February to find a present outside the door, it might just have come from Jack.

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