Today many lovers send cards and red roses to a special person in their lives, however this day is generally perceived to be yet another commercial invention.
The history of Valentine’s Day, legend says, originated during the third century in Rome. During this time, Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men. A young priest named Valentine was furious with this injustice and defied Claudius by continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Claudius eventually discovered Valentine’s actions and sentenced him to death (not quite the fate of those who fail to buy their significant others flowers on Valentine’s Day, but clearly a lesson to be learned from history!).
During his time in jail, Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, who visited him in prison. Before he was put to death, Valentine sent a letter to the girl and signed it, “From Your Valentine” — an expression we still use today. Valentine was executed on February 14, 270 AD. Later, around 496 AD, Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 a day to honour Valentine, who by that time had become a saint.
THE HISTORY OF RED ROSES
Roses are among the world’s oldest and most loved flowers. Fossil evidence of the existence of roses more than 35 million years were found in central Colorado by Swiss botanist Leo Lesquereux in the late 19th century.
The rose is the world’s favourite flower, and always has been. It is the greatest floral symbol of love and romance the world over and touches peoples’ hearts at many points in their lives as the flower most often chosen to celebrate significant milestones, weddings, anniversaries, births and deaths.
One of the earliest ties between the red rose and its modern day meaning of love goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. In Greek mythology, roses were created by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Greeks believed that the first rose bloomed when she found her lover, Adonis, mortally wounded by a wild boar. Her tears mixed with his blood, and when they hit the ground a large, fragrant rose bush began to grow and bloom.
In Roman mythology, the story goes a bit differently. Venus, Goddess of Love, was rushing to warn her lover Adonis about a murder plot against him. In her haste, she ran through a thorn bush, cutting her ankles on the sharp thorns. Everywhere her blood touched the bush, brilliant red roses began to bloom.
The word “rose” also has a root in Roman myth. The story says that the Goddess of Flowers, Flora, while in pain from the sting of Cupid’s arrow, mispronounced the word for romantic love, “eros” and it sounded like our modern word, “rose,” and the terms became intertwined.
RED ROSES BEYOND THE CLASSICAL ERA
Skipping ahead a few centuries, roses were very popular in medieval times. They were often seen as symbols of power and courage, as well as love. Many medieval rulers cultivated roses in their gardens, and Charlemagne, in particular, was known to be fond of the rose bushes growing at his palace at Aix-la-Chapelle.
During the crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, it was common for knights returning from the Middle East to bring roses home with them from their travels. This may account for the spread of many Turkish varieties into northern and western Europe.
In 15th Century England, the War of the Roses was fought over a power struggle for the throne. The House of York, represented by a white rose, attacked Henry VI, whose symbol was the red rose. After years of conflict, Henry VII assumed the throne and united the two symbols into the Rose of England, which can still be seen carved into the ornate woodwork in many Tudor era palaces.