Who was St. Valentine? Why do we empty our pockets to buy expensive chocolates and bacon flowers every year for Valentine’s Day? Here’s a little history of Valentine’s Day and what we know about St. Valentine himself.
Who Was St. Valentine? The 3 Valentine Legends
Every February, 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 him? The history of Valentine’s Day and its patron saint is shrouded in mystery. St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least 3 different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
Legend: Valentine The Wedding Priest
One popular 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.
Legend: Valentine The Rescuer
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.
Legend: Valentine The Romantic Prisoner
According to the third 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.
Valentine’s Day History
Although the truth behind the legend of St. Valentine is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, a romantic figure. It’s no surprise that by the Middle Ages, St. Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.