French Language Blog

L’Amour est dans l’Air (Love is in the Air): The Origins of Valentine’s Day Posted by on Feb 14, 2014 in Culture

Today is Valentine’s Day and for people in many countries across the world, it can only mean one thing: l’Amour (Love). But how did le jour de Saint Valentin (St. Valentine’s day) come to be?

To understand the origins of Valentine’s Day, we must travel back plusieurs siècles (several centuries) to the days of the mighty Roman Empire. Valentinus (Valentine) was a real person, a priest living in Rome sous le règne (under the reign) of Emperor Claudius II. He was imprisoned for helping Christians who faced persecution. He was condemned to die when he tried to convert the emperor to Christianity. His death was rather brutal as he was beaten with clubs, stoned and finally beheaded. The date of his death was, coincidentally, February 14th (circa A.D. 270). He was later canonized by the Catholic Church and is known today as St. Valentine. He has since become the patron saint of love, happy marriages, epilepsy, l’évanouissement (fainting), la peste (plague), bee keepers and young people. Quite a combination!

La tradition de l’amour courtois (the tradition of courtly love) associated with St. Valentine began during the High Middle Ages (c. 1000-1300) in France. People noticed birds engaging in a courting ritual around the middle of the month of February. Because of this, French nobles began exchanging tokens with one another as a show of respect and love. La coutume (The custom) of sending Valentine’s Day cards to loved ones began when the Duke of Orléans, a French noble, was captured by the English at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. From his prison cell in London, he sent numerous cartes d’amitié (friendship cards) to his wife in France. Today, les lettres d’amour (love letters) we write to those we love are often accompanied par un bouquet de fleurs et une boîte de chocolats (by a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates).

In the Val de Loire region of central France lies St. Valentin, a small village of a couple hundred people that has become a popular destination for couples in love since the 1960s. St. Valentin, nicknamed “Le village de l’Amour” (the village of Love) is un lieu de pèlerinage (a pilgrimage site) for many married couples from all over France who take the opportunity to renew their vœux de mariage (wedding vows) during the celebrations and ceremonies that take place in the village during the month of February.

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