Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are
exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who
is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? The
history of Valentine's Day -- and its patron saint -- is shrouded in
mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance.
St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both
Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and
how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the
Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named
Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third
century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made
better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed
marriage for young men -- his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine,
realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to
perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions
were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for
attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they
were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first
'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that
Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have been his
jailor's daughter -- who visited him during his confinement. Before his
death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From
your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the
truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly
emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly,
romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine
was one of the most popular saints in England and France.