For centuries, people have celebrated Valentine’s Day on February 14th as a holiday of romance and love. However, who exactly was St. Valentine? Why is he associated with love? There is little definitive historical fact about this connection, but there are a number of very intriguing legends regarding Saint Valentine.
There were actually three men named Valentine who have become Catholic saints, all martyred in February. First was Valentine of Rome, then Valentine of Terni, and another Valentine who was killed in Africa. Most branches of Catholicism have not celebrated the feast day of St. Valentine since the 1960s because so little is known about the men. However, by that time, it had already become very popular in secular culture.
There is a theory that St. Valentine’s Day was originally created to replace a pagan fertility holiday called Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15th. Pope Gelasius christened the new holiday after Saint Valentine in 496 AD, and most believe it was named after Valentine of Rome. The feast was moved to a day earlier, erasing Lupercalia, although perhaps gaining some associations with fertility.
The legends surrounding Valentine of Rome have evolved over centuries and it is difficult to know for sure what is fact or fiction. We know that Valentine of Rome was a priest who clashed with Roman Emperor Claudius II around 270 AD. It is possible that Claudius had established a law outlawing marriage in order to grow his military. The story continues that Valentine disobeyed the law, continuing to marry Romans. When sent to jail, Valentine cured the blindness of his jailer’s daughter. A friendship, and perhaps love, formed between the daughter and Valentine, such that Valentine sent the woman a letter before his execution signed “From Your Valentine.”
Whether these stories are true or not, the credit for the modern association between Valentine’s Day and love is attributed to the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who linked the holiday with metaphorical mating birds in his poem “Parliament of Fowles” in 1382. From this point, Valentine’s Day became further entrenched as the holiday of love and during the 18th Century in England people began giving Valentine’s Day Gifts and cards to their sweethearts. Eventually, by the mid-19th Century in America, commercially produced greeting cards and gifts celebrating Valentine’s Day were a growing trend, one that has only increased with time.