From Early Christian Saint to Chaucer: How Modern Valentines Day Came To Be
History lovers, or those encountering a certain Internet meme, may have wondered how
a feast day commemorating a third-century Christian martyr came to be a celebration
of romantic love.
The answer, as far as anyone can tell, is the medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
Written in the 1380s, Chaucer's 700-line poem "The Parliament of Fowls" is widely
credited by scholars to be the first existing work connecting Valentine's Day with
"The longer you are a scholar, the more hesitant you are to make sweeping claims about
these things. But be that as it may, it's a Valentine poem in the 'fin amors' tradition,"
said Greg Roper, associate professor of English and a medievalist.
In the poem, a parliament is convened on St. Valentine's Day for birds to choose their
mates. Several male eagles give courtly speeches, each arguing why he is most worthy
to marry a female eagle. The female eagle, however, gets permission from Nature, who
is moderating this session, to delay her decision for a year. The parliament is dissolved
so that the other birds can pair up.
"In the first-ever check on over-romanticizing Valentine's Day, Chaucer leaves the
major issue undecided, so that other aspects of human nature can be satisfied," said
Another unanswered question is why Chaucer chose February 14 for his parliament. While
no one really knows, scholars have made the case that an early spring could have brought
birds back to England at around this time.