The exact origins of St Valentine’s Day are unknown but are likely to have evolved from the ancient festival Februa (to purify or purge). It was named for the februum, a strip of animal hide. The festival involved a ritual known as Lupercalia and occurred on February 15. Lupercus was a Roman god which protected herds from wolves and was also a fertility deity. Luperci priests would sacrifice a male goat or dog and, following a feast, cut thongs from the skin. The goatskin-clad priests would run through the city, striking people with the thongs to purify them. Women believed that being struck with the februa would enhance fertility and ease childbirth.
Lupercalia was also a time when young men and women were paired together. Men would draw a name from a box and the couple would be paired until the following year.
The festival also included worship of Venus,the Roman goddess of fertility, beauty and love, whose favourite flowers were red roses. Cupid, the son of Venus, could fire his arrow at someone’s heart and cause them to fall in love with the first person they met. The Greek equivalent names for Cupid and Venus are Eros and Aphrodite; words such as erotic and aphrodisiac are incorporated in our modern language. Mid February was also a time when birds chose their partners, furthering the notion of love on this day.
From Lupercalia to St. Valentine’s DayThe name St. Valentine’s Day derives from a priest named Valentine. During the third century CE, Emperor Claudius II had decreed that soldiers remain single and avoid being distracted by wives or fiancées. The priest Valentine was secretly marrying couples then, when discovered, was executed on February 14th. The Emperor actually executed two men named Valentine of the same day years apart. The Catholic Church declared Valentine a martyr and named the date St. Valentine’s Day. It is believed that prior to his execution the priest wrote a letter to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had healed, and signed it “your Valentine”. The Saint is the patron of love, young people and happy marriages.
The feast of Lupercalia continued on February 15th and was modified somewhat two centuries later by Pope Gelasius I. Instead of young men drawing names of young women, they now both drew the names of saints and were to emulate them for a year. Valentine replaced Lupercus as the patron of the feast then Lupercalia was moved to February 14th and renamed St. Valentine's Day.
From seed pod to our Contemporary Heart ShapeThe early heart shape may have been based on a seed pod from the extinct plant Silphium. It had economic significance in the seventh century BC and the shape was incorporated in Cyrenian coins. The herb was used for seasoning and also believed have contraceptive properties.
The heart shape actually more closely resembles that of a bird or reptile than a human. Animals could be dissected but the Catholic Church is believed to have been against human dissection.
In other early depictions the heart resembles a pine cone or pear, both of which were held with the point facing upward.
Le Roman de la Poire (circa 1255), the first illustration of a heart in Europe not in an anatomical textbook. The Shape of the Heart by Pierre Vinken, relates the non-anatomical heart shape to a medieval love poem. Written around 1255 CE by Thibault, Le Roman de la Poire depicts a pear being given away. This may have become tied to the notion of giving your heart away.
The Book of the Heart, by Eric Jager, is a trove of information on the history of the heart shape. In it, Jager suggests that the heart shape became linked with romantic love around the 14th Century. “[People at the time] thought of our hearts as books of memory, a place where God’s commands are written, and [believed] feelings for the beloved were somehow written on your heart”. The shape then incorporated a dent, closer resembling the modern heart.
Romantic Prose and Valentine’s Day CardsDuring Lupercalia, men would compose messages of admiration to women and include Valentine’s name. In France, the Normans celebrated Galatin’s Day. Galatin, which sounds somewhat like valentine, means “lover of women”, a similar theme to what we’ve learned about the Roman celebration.
The Romans believed that birds chose their mates in mid February, during Lupercalia. Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th century poet, wrote Parlement of Foules, in which he linked birds choosing their mate to St. Valentine’s Day; this poem is one of the earliest works linking romance and courtship with that date.
William Shakespeare mentions St. Valentine’s Day in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet. At the time there was a superstition that if two unmarried people looked at each other in the morning of St. Valentine’s Day they would marry. “Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?” is a phrase from As You Like It.
The first valentine card may be attributed to Charles, duke of Orleans, who, while imprisoned in 1415, sent a Valentine card to his wife. It became a tradition for people to write love letters and send small gifts. By the late 1700’s commercial valentine cards had been created and often included images of flowers, birds and hearts along with prose.
In 1849, Esther Howland, at the age of 21, became “The Mother of the American Valentine” by producing cards in her home. They featured lace, ribbon and imported papers. She sold her company in 1881 to a competitor who also made Valentine’s cards.
In 1916 Hall Bros., which later became Hallmark, began producing their own Valentine’s Day cards. The tradition of children exchanging Valentine’s Day cards dates to the late 1800’s.
This year to celebrate Valentine’s Day our glassblowers have created a stunning collection of hearts for you to give to your special someone. Our hearts are red, pink and, in a break from historical tradition, a beautiful combination of amber and blue. The red glass actually contains the precious metal gold. Silver is a component of the amber and blue hearts.
Robert Held’s interpretation of the heart shape
Robert created his first glass heart in 1991. It was made from clear glass and was a gift for a relative. Since then Robert has designed many hearts and the paperweights have become a signature of his collection.
Visit the Parksville gallery to browse our selection, including dichroic glass hearts, the Hearts A’fire collection of hanging hearts, and beautiful glass heart paperweights (also available online). Whichever heart you choose will be a wonderful way of saying Happy Valentine’s Day.
Memories Held memorial hearts can be created for you.