There are many legends of who may have been the actual person that Valentine’s Day is taken from but there is one that stands out from the rest. His name was Valentinus and he was a holy priest in Rome. He lived during the rule of Emperor Claudius, II also known as Claudius the Cruel.
Emperor Claudius, II had a difficult time finding men to join his Army due to his bloody campaigns. Claudius believed this was because Roman men weren’t willing to leave their families behind. So he decided that if he banned all marriages and engagements then men would be more likely to join his Army.
Meanwhile, there was a priest who saw the injustice of such and defied Claudius by continuing to secretly marry young couples. As you could well expect that when Claudius discovered what Valentine was doing behind his back, it would not go over very well. Claudius would order him to be arrested, tortured and beheaded.
During the time he was in jail, Valentine befriended the jailer’s daughter and left her a farewell note. He would sign it, “From Your Valentine.” Valentine was executed on February 14, 270 A.D. give or take a year. The Roman Catholic church recognized his service and after his death he became a saint.
Now the date of Valentine’s death was close to the date of Lupercalia, the pagan festival of love on February 15th. Lupercalia was a very sexually-charged, violent and bloody celebration filled with animal sacrifice and random matchmaking to ward off evil spirits and prevent infertility.
It wasn’t until 496 A.D., that Pope Gelasius decided to end this pagan holiday and professed February 14th to be celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that Valentine’s Day was celebrated similar to the way we do today with sweet notes and gifts.
Valentine knew the danger he would be in when Claudius, II found out what he was doing. During that era, people were in polygamous marriages as well as sexual relationships outside of marriage and he wanted to preserve the sanctity of marriage between a couple. When I read the story of Valentinus, I couldn't help but remember this verse:
John 15:13 (KJV)
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.