February 02, 2024

Pure Pearls Weekly Newsletter: The Gemstone of Love: Pearls and Valentine's Day Traditions



Pure Pearls Weekly Newsletter


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Valentine's Day Pearls


Hi Pearl Lovers!
Many people today cynically regard Valentine’s Day as a corporate holiday that was made up to get them to spend money on cards, candy, and jewelry (among other things). However, it turns out that Valentine’s Day has a rather unique history stretching back into antiquity – just like with pearls. 
As the world’s oldest precious gemstone, pearls are intimately tied with celebrations of love and devotion. Each pearl is a completely unique, one-of-a-kind treasure from nature: exactly like the love that every couple, parent and child, and friendship shares. It’s only fitting that pearls should have the ultimate association with the holiday dedicated to celebrating Love in all its forms.
Let’s explore the origins of Valentine’s Day, and their close connection with our favorite gemstone: pearls.

Saint Valentine

Who Was Saint Valentine? 

There are a few different theories about who Saint Valentine actually was … Valentine was a very popular name throughout Western history (I even have a Valentin in my husband’s family lineage from around the Civil War!), so there are a few notable Valentines, all of whom were Catholic priests and were martyred, during the Roman era for us to investigate. 

One legend recounts that during the 3rd Century, a priest named Valentine defied Roman emperor Claudius resulting in his execution. Claudius was in the midst of waging the Claudine Wars, and had conscripted young Christian men to pad the numbers of his army. Part of the orders of conscription was that the young men weren’t allowed to marry, as married men were exempted from heading to the battlefield. Valentine defied emperor Claudius and married Christian couples in secret, for which he was beheaded. 

Saint Valentine Cures Blind Girl

Another legend tells of a priest named Valentine who had been imprisoned by the Romans for daring to convert the local populace to Christianity. During his imprisonment, he was held captive in the dungeons of a local judge’s home who had a blind daughter named Julia. The judge, daring Valentine to prove that God was real, asked Valentine to cure his daughter’s blindness. While praying, Valentine laid his hands upon Julia’s eyes, and her sight was miraculously restored.
Even though the judge immediately converted himself and his entire household to Christianity after the miracle, and released Valentine, the priest was rearrested soon after for again proselytizing the population and sentenced to death. The evening before he was due to be executed, he left a note addressed to Julia which he signed, “Your Valentine”. 
Research suggests that the date of his execution was February 14th, outside of the Flaminian Gate in Rome. Modern day archaeologists have been able to confirm that no matter which legend you subscribe to, Valentine was a real person that existed during the 3rd century when they located his ancient catacomb. The Feast of Saint Valentine was declared an official Catholic holiday by Pope Gelasius in 496 AD, although it was later removed in the 1960s due to the ambiguous nature of Saint Valentine’s story.

Lupercalia Valentines Day Origins
I don’t know about you, but this image just screams “romance”. 

The Origins of Valentine’s Day Celebrations – Lupercalia? 

This day-long festival of sexual debauchery, animal sacrifice and flogging (yes, really!) took place every year in Rome on February 15th, beginning around the founding of Rome in 753 BC. The connection to Valentine’s Day is tenuous … However, many historians note that the name Valentine – which means ‘worthy’ – was a popular name in Rome during the time, and the proximity of the date to today’s Valentine’s Day make this strange festival a good candidate for the origins of the Day of Love. 

Commemorating Remus and Romulus, the two twins who were suckled by a she-wolf in the location that would become Rome, Lupercalia kicked off with a ritual sacrifice of two male goats representing sexuality. The priests would have their foreheads smeared with the animal’s blood, and strips of the flesh of the slain animals were made into whips or thongs. After a feast, the priests and young men would cavort through the streets naked, flogging any female nearby. It was thought that the whipping would guarantee fertility (yes, this was really a part of it – don’t ask me, I just work here). 

Another important tradition on Lupercalia included having young, single women add their names to a city-wide lottery that men would draw from randomly. Men who drew a woman’s name were expected to live with her for the next year, and indeed many marriages were made from the lottery system! 

Of course, that is not the only Roman connection to Valentine’s Day ...

Brides and Pearls

Roman Marriages 

The Romans especially revered pearls, so much so that Julius Cesar declared that pearls could only be worn by royalty. The tradition of wearing a wedding veil originated in Rome; Romans believed that the veil would shield the bride from evil spirits and bad luck before her nuptials.
It is not a stretch to imagine bridal veils for high society brides could be edged in precious pearls, with gorgeous gold and pearl earrings to match.

Those traditions carry on today, with pearls – both real and synthetic – playing a prominent role in traditional celebrations of love, including Valentine’s Day. 

Eros God of Love

Eros - The Greco-Roman God of Love 

Hard to believe that the adorable images of baby Cupid – the official mascot of Valentine’s Day – is actually based off this devastatingly handsome god of the Greeks and Romans. Eros, the god of Love, was known to be a deity that carried a golden bow and arrow, which he used to inflame the passions of other immortals and humans alike.
Son of Aphrodite, the goddess of Love, Eros was known not just for his connection to passion, but also for his hijinks! While being pierced by his golden arrow could incite love, one of his lead arrows would have the opposite effect and inspire revulsion and hatred in the person who was hit. 


Cupid – The Modern Day Valentine’s Day Mascot 

The depiction of Eros as a handsome, masculine winged god continued until about the 3rd century BC, after which it slowly began to evolve into the babyish, adorable Cupid we all know today. 

Perhaps it was all the “pranks” using his leaden arrows that gave him a childish air that tainted his image, and lead people to change his image? 

Or maybe having a baby or small child be  associated with “arrows of love” is less intimidating? 

In any case, Cupid’s association with love has held fast through the centuries and has made him eponymous with Valentine’s Day.

Victorian Valentines

Victorian Valentines

The Victorian era, with its emphasis on romantic love, saw Valentine’s Day morph into the day we know and love today, with all its attendant cards, gifts and special treats.

The very first Valentine’s Day cards were created in England under the reign of Queen Victoria, and the craze quickly spread to the United States after the Civil War. 

Most greeting cards were handmade, and the most popular ones depicted flowers and yes, pearls!

The Victorians had a particular fondness for pearls, as they were seen to be subtler and more refined than brightly colored gemstones. 

Pearl jewelry was quite popular during the Victorian era, although during that time only natural pearls were available, with larger pearls quite rare and expensive. They primarily used smaller Freshwater seed pearls to embellish the elaborate brooches, rings and pendants.

Victorian Seed Pearl and Diamond Pendant 


Valentines Today

With the advent of cultured pearls, fine quality pearl jewelry in all sizes and shapes was finally affordable for all classes, and the gifting of jewelry on Valentine’s Day became much more common.

Today the gift of a lustrous Akoya pearl necklace, exotic Black Tahitian pearl earrings or a pendant sparkling with diamonds and pearls is considered a perfect choice for a Valentine’s Day gift as pearls have always been a part of the Language of Love.

From the earliest days of the Roman Empire to our modern times, pearls can convey a sense of love, fidelity, purity and the unique story belonging to each pearl, and, to lovers themselves.


Pearl and Diamond Earrings Valentine's Day Gift Ideas  

I hope you all enjoyed exploring the origins and history of Valentine's Day, and their ancient connections with pearls. 
Until next time ...

Ashley M.

The PurePearls.com Wishlist: Weekly Pearl Jewelry Spotlight


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