February 14, 2011


David Ellis

BY the time you read this more than one-billion Valentine's Day cards will have been bought, written in, posted, pondered over, clutched to heaving bosoms, and either proudly shown-off – or chucked away without being taken out of the envelope.

World-wide, teens will have sent and received the most number of cards, followed by all the usual suspects of husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and other lovers.

And the biggest number to have received unsigned Valentine's cards will, amazingly, have been schoolteachers.

Something like 73% of men will also have included flowers or chocolates with their cards, an estimated 3% of pet owners world-wide will have given a Valentine's gift to their pet… and somewhat bizarrely in America 22,000,000 women (15% of the female population) who had not expected to receive a Valentine's card or flowers, will have sent flowers to themselves.

And all this because of just three words written by a condemned man in a prison cell 1,744 years ago – even though some still question today whether it was he after whom Valentine's Day is named.

These doubters say the day was named after the martyr, Bishop Valentine of Terni – a city near Rome originally known as Interamna – who was executed around AD 197 during the persecution of the Emperor Aurelian and his supporters.

But most money is on it having been named after St Valentine of Rome, the "Saint of Love" who was a third century priest beheaded on February 14 in AD 267 on the orders of the emperor Claudius II ("Claudius the Cruel") for carrying out marriage ceremonies against the emperor's instructions.

And then again there are those who believe that Valentine of Terni and Valentine of Rome were in fact one and the same…

A qualified doctor as well as a priest, Valentine of Rome angered the Emperor because he performed marriages at a time Claudius, who believed married men made poor soldiers, needed all the young single men he could get for his army.

While Valentine awaited his execution in prison, the blind daughter of one of his jailers regularly visited him, and on the eve of his execution he left her a note which he simply signed "From Your Valentine."

It is claimed that as he was executed, the young girl's sight was miraculously restored, allowing her to read his note.

The girl's jailer father recorded the return of his daughter's sight around the time of Valentine's execution, and as a result, 200 years later in AD 496 Pope Gelasius recognised the miracle of the priest and the blind girl.

Valentine was canonised and his remains removed to the Church of St Praxedes on Rome's Via Santa Prassede.

But it was a Frenchman, Charles – the  Duke of Orleans – who is believed to have sent the world's very first "Valentine's card." He had been imprisoned in the Tower of London following the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and began sending poems home to his wife on pieces of card, signing them as "her Valentine."

When word of this affection spread in Britain and France, others – mainly those who considered themselves as imprisoned secret lovers – started signing "From Your Valentine" at the end of their letters.

The first publicly-available "Valentine's cards" didn't appear in Europe until 400 years later in the early 1800s. They were large, cumbersome handmade affairs and in the 1840s in Massachusetts USA, a teenaged Esther Howland convinced her father, who owned a book and stationery business, to print a sample of a small "Valentine's Card" on lace paper that could be mailed using the new-fangled "postage stamps" that were just being introduced in America.

She also coerced a salesman brother to show her card to customers as he did his rounds selling their father's products, hoping to sell $200 worth of cards. But her brother brought back orders worth $5000, and with the help of friends Esther set up America's first greetings card production line, soon turning over $100,000 a year… a-then fortune.

Esther Howland died in 1904 at a venerable 76 years of age, and despite  having brought love and joy into the world of millions of women as "the mother of the modern Valentine's Day Card," she never married and went to her grave a millionairess spinster.






St VALENTINE Baptises St Lucilla before his execution, a 16th century painting by Jacopo da Ponte.                                         


ORNATE original Esther Howland lace paper Valentine's Day Card.


CONTEMPORARY print from the time showing Charles, Duke of Orleans, imprisoned in the Tower of London: he sent his wife the world's very first

Valentine's cards.


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