Much of the origins of St. Valentine’s Day are surrounding in speculation, rumor and legend, and with roots going as far back as 200 AD, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. In fact, the Catholic Church recognizes not merely one, but at least three different men named Valentine, all of which died as Martyrs. The primary two Valentines honored on February 14th are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni.
The original biographies of either Valentine held no romantic elements. In fact, the Saint Valentine’s celebration did not acquire romantic elements until the 14th century when the rituals of courtly love became increasingly common. It is in this time that several authors wrote stories of St. Valentine that have become the legends we hear today. Perhaps the most popular of these stories is the idea that during the third century in Rome, Emperor Claudius II declared that marriage was outlawed for young men, under the assumption that single men made better soldiers. Valentine recognized the injustice of such a decree and performed marriage ceremonies for young lovers in secret. Upon discovering Valentine’s actions, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
During his time in jail, rumor also states that Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, whom he healed from blindness. Before his death, Valentine sent her the first “valentine” greeting, signing it “from your Valentine”, thus created the common practice and phrase still used today.
While there is no way to accurately separate the truth from the stories, one thing we know for sure is that Valentine’s Day has become one of the most beloved holidays in our nation. In fact, with over 190 million valentines sent in the US each year, school valentine’s parties, work parties, and special couple celebrations, Valentine’s Day has solidified itself as a permanent part of our culture. It is a special occasion to share our love for those around us and remind us that love truly makes the world go round.