Prang's Valentine cards
Advertisement for Prang's greeting cards, showing a woman holding a group of tethered cherubs, who float like a bunch of balloons above her. One of the cherubs is portrayed as a baby of African descent.
25093 U.S. Copyright Office.
Copyright by L. Prang & Co., Boston.
Title from item.
Valentine's Day, also called Saint Valentine's Day originated as a Western Christian feast day honoring one or two early saints named Valentinus. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae) and Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae). Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred in 269 and was added to the calendar of saints by Pope Gelasius I in 496 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. Some authors link St. Valentine's Day and the rites of the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia. In Ancient Rome, Lupercalia, observed February 13–15, was an archaic rite connected to fertility. Pope Gelasius I (492–496) abolished Lupercalia. The Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496 to be celebrated on February 14 in honor of Saint Valentine of Rome, who died on that date in AD 269. From the High Middle Ages, his Saints' Day has been associated with a tradition of courtly love. He is also a patron saint of epilepsy. The earliest description of February 14 as an annual celebration of love appears in the Charter of the Court of Love. The charter, allegedly issued by Charles VI of France at Mantes-la-Jolie in 1400, describes lavish festivities to be attended by several members of the royal court, including a feast, amorous song and poetry competitions, jousting, and dancing. Amid these festivities, the attending ladies would hear and rule on disputes from lovers. No other record of the court exists, and none of those named in the charter were present at Mantes except Charles's queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, who may well have imagined it all while waiting out a plague. The day became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century when the notions of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it grew into an occasion in which couples expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines"). Valentine's Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In Europe, Saint Valentine's Keys are given to lovers "as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver's heart", as well as to children to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine's Malady). Saint Valentine's Day is an official feast day in the Anglican and the Lutheran Churches, however, the celebration has become marginalized by the modern Anglo-American customs connecting the day with romantic love.