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.
As early as the
fourth century B.C., the Romans engaged in an annual young man's
rite to passage to the God Lupercus. The names of the teenage women
were placed in a box and drawn at random by adolescent men; thus, a
man was assigned a woman companion for the duration of the year,
after which another lottery was staged. After eight hundred years of
this cruel practice, the early church fathers sought to end this
practice... They found an answer in Valentine, a bishop who had been
martyred some two hundred years earlier.
According to church tradition St. Valentine was a priest near Rome
in about the year 270 A.D. At that time the Roman Emperor
Claudius-II who had issued an edict forbidding marriage.
This was around when the heyday of Roman empire had almost come to
an end. Lack of quality administrators led to frequent civil
strife. Learning declined, taxation increased, and trade slumped to
a low, precarious level. And the Gauls, Slavs, Huns, Turks and
Mongolians from Northern Europe and Asian increased their pressure
on the empire's boundaries. The empire was grown too large to be
shielded from external aggression and internal chaos with existing
forces. Thus more of capable men were required to be recruited as
soldiers and officers. When Claudius became the emperor, he felt
that married men were more emotionally attached to their families,
and thus, will not make good soldiers. So to assure quality
soldiers, he banned marriage.
Valentine, a bishop , seeing the trauma of young lovers, met them in
a secret place, and joined them in the sacrament of matrimony.
Claudius learned of this "friend of lovers," and had him arrested.
The emperor, impressed with the young priest's dignity and
conviction, attempted to convert him to the roman gods, to save him
from certain execution. Valentine refused to recognize Roman Gods
and even attempted to convert the emperor, knowing the consequences
On February 24, 270, Valentine was executed.
While Valentine was in prison awaiting his fate, he came in contact
with his jailor, Asterius. The jailor had a blind daughter. Asterius
requested him to heal his daughter. Through his faith he
miraculously restored the sight of Asterius' daughter. Just before
his execution, he asked for a pen and paper from his jailor, and
signed a farewell message to her "From Your Valentine," a phrase
that lived ever after.
Valentine thus become a Patron Saint, and spiritual overseer of an
annual festival. The festival involved young Romans offering women
they admired, and wished to court, handwritten greetings of
affection on February 14. The greeting cards acquired St.Valentine's
The Valentine's Day card spread with Christianity, and is now
celebrated all over the world. One of the earliest card was sent in
1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was a
prisoner in the Tower of London. The card is now preserved in the