Guest columnist: Roman martyrs lead to candlelit dinners for two

Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day

This year Valentine’s Day falls within the half-term holiday so here at Gainsborough Old Hall we have got some ideas to keep the kids entertained while you plan where to take your beloved and maybe ponder on the origins on this day.

The history of Valentine’s Day is obscure, and further clouded by various legends.

The holiday’s roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia.

The Festival of Lupercalia was a fertility festival celebrated in mid-February by ancient Romans during pagan times.

The festival paired young boys and girls through a lottery system who would fall in love and marry.

Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St Valentine’s Day.

Which St Valentine this early pope intended to honour remains a mystery.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were at least three early Christian saints by that name.

One was a priest in Rome, another a bishop in Terni, and of a third St. Valentine almost nothing is known except that he met his end in Africa.

Rather astonishingly, all three Valentines were said to have been martyred on February 14.

Most scholars believe that the St. Valentine of the holiday was a priest who attracted the disfavour of Roman emperor Claudius II around 270.

At this stage, the factual ends and the mythic begins.

According to one legend, Claudius II had prohibited marriage for young men, claiming that bachelors made better soldiers.

Valentine continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies but was eventually apprehended by the Romans and put to death.

Another legend has it that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the daughter of his jailer.

Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter signed ‘from your Valentine’.

Probably the most plausible story surrounding St Valentine is one not focused on Eros (passionate love) but on agape (Christian love).

He was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion.

In 1969, the Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar, removing the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable, and St Valentine was one of the casualties.

Valentine’s Day gained much popularity during the medieval period.

The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. Lovers began to celebrate the day by exchanging love notes and simple gifts such as flowers.

The idea of linking Valentine’s Day with love in Middle Ages was strengthened by the notion that birds began to look for mate during this time.

The first recorded Valentine is said to have been written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.

The greeting is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London.

As for entertaining the children we have got complimentary craft sessions running all though the week for those of you who are also visiting the hall.

Then on Friday, February 17 we have the Friday Fun Club 10am to 12noon and 1pm to 4pm.

Make swords and helmets to wear when preparing for battle. Entry to the workshop is free and it’s £1 per craft thereafter.