Roots of Valentine’s Day transcend Hallmark

Thanks to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, a day dedicated to love was used as both an educational experience and a platform for debate.

On Monday, the library hosted a lecture by Bonnie Wheeler, who spoke about the history of Valentine’s Day while also refuting popular viewpoints of its origin. Wheeler, who is both the director of the Southern Methodist University’s Medieval Studies Program and editor of the book series “The New Middle Ages,”lectured on what she deems a misconception. The misconception consists of the idea that Valentine’s Day was started because of Saint Valentine.

“To assume Saint Valentine is the source of Valentine’s Day is a historical fabrication,” Wheeler said. “This day is important. And it’s important because it has something to do with more than Hallmark cards. It’s a holiday that is both not religious and civic. A day dedicated to the concept of love and its workings.”

Within the lecture, Wheeler attributed the origin of the day to the poem by Geoffrey Chaucer named “Parlement of Foules.” The work, approximately 700 lines, is a poem that crafts the way birds choose their mates, specifically focusing on females.

Wheeler said she believes the poem is what “led Valentine’s (Day) to become a more romantic holiday than before by 1382.”

Over 50 people attended the event, including faculty members and graduate students, filling the library. The lecture was not unusual in its scheduling, as the library aims to host cultural events at least twice a month and hosted a similar event last year but with a different angle.

“We decided to look more at the medieval roots this year, rather than last year where we focused on romantic songs, including live music,” said Valerie Hotchkiss, director of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. “We plan these annually, so students here should take advantage of it.”

Carol Berthold, volunteer at the library and alumna, was not required to come to the lecture but chose to attend anyway. Berthold said she enjoyed the lecture and took a lot away from it; she encouraged students to come to similar events.

“I would encourage both undergrads and graduates to take as many opportunities to learn about anything and everything they can,” she said. “These opportunities become less available as you grow older.”