Ali Blumenthal for Reader's Digest
Without question, the heart shape is the leading symbol of Valentine’s Day and love in general. Lucky for us, that means chocolate candies, decorations, even pizzas, cookies, and engagement rings in its likeness. But a side-by-side comparison of the human heart and the shape that’s permeated our culture might leave you wondering how we got from point A to point B.
So what happened, you might ask. It turns out, there are a few theories behind the heart’s perplexing geometry.
The most obvious is the idea that the shape is a cleaned-up illustration of the human heart organ. Because many Greek and Roman thinkers believed the heart to be the epicenter of the body, this line of thinking is plausible. Aristotle, for example, described the heart as the source of rational intelligence, heat, and sensation. The Ancient Egyptians considered it the epitome of life and morality. Early illustrations of the organ very well could have lead them to the scalloped shape we know today.
Other theories suggest the shape might not be botched representation of the organ at all. One idea is that the modern symbol was drawn from a depiction of a seedpod, after the now-extinct siliphium plant was used as a form of birth control in the seventh century city-state of Cyrene in North Africa. The thinking goes that the shape began to represent sex, and soon after, love.
The Catholic Church also has a say in the matter. In this theory, the heart came to Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque in a vision in the 1600s. The heart appeared to her surrounded by thorns, a symbol that later became known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a representation of his love. While the shape had been well documented before this, its association with Catholicism could very well have boosted the heart’s popularity as a symbol of love.
Its origin aside, the heart shape flourished with the exchange of valentines in 17th-century England. And while then the valentine might still have been a cut-and-dry red heart, it would not leave the Victorian era as such. As with many of the items the Victorians decorated (ahem, improved), ribbons, bows, and other embellishments were added. What were we left with? The dressed up, lace-fringed, Valentine’s Day heart we know (and <3) today.
Read more: 12 Tiny Ways to Make Your Spouse Feel Loved