The saint that is the center of Valentine’s Day celebration was actually jailed and sentenced to die all in the name of love. Before his death, he wrote a letter that used for the first time the famous expression “From your Valentine.”
Before he was ordained saint, Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century. According to History, Emperor Claudius II promulgated a decree that banned all soldiers from getting married. The emperor believed that men without wives and families were better fighters than those who were already married. Valentine strongly objected the decree.
Defying Emperor Claudius, Valentine performed marriages for soldiers who want to consummate their loves for their girls. But when this defiance was discovered, the emperor ordered for Valentine to be captured and be put to death.
History also noted that the Catholic Church recognized three saints named Valentine. Hence, it was really hard to identify the real Valentine of whom the February 14 celebration was truly dedicated for. But whichever story is true, Valentine was consistently painted as a romantic hero, someone that is very sympathetic.
There was another story saying that Valentine may have already been killed while helping Christians escape from Roman prisons. According to this story, Valentine saved the Christian prisoners from tortures conducted by the Romans.
The most romantic story about Valentine was the one where he fell in love with a girl while serving jail time. The girl allegedly was the daughter of his jailor. Right before his death, Valentine wrote a love letter for her. The correspondence was signed with what would be the most popular expression of love up to this very day: “From your Valentine.”
According to the National Geographic, Valentine was executed on February 14. Hence, the day was dedicated in celebration of him.
Noel Lenski from the University of Colorado at Boulder, however, saw a rather more controversial side into the whole mystery surrounding St. Valentine. All these romantic and heroic stories about him may just be a “convenient explanation for a Christian version of what happened at Lupercalia,” Lenski said.
Lupercalia was a pagan festivity celebrated on the 15th of February according to A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities by John Murray. The celebration involved sacrificing goats. The animals’ skin was cut into pieces. The young men would then go around the city streets holding the pieces of the skin. They strike the people with them. Young women voluntarily approached them and willingly have their bodies spank by the men. They believe that such practice will make them fertile and capable of childbearing.
According to the National Geographic, the Lupercalia was popular into the fifth century AD. It was celebrated at least 150 years after Constantine finally legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. The festivity was “clearly a very popular thing, even in an environment where the ancient Christians are trying to close it down,” Lenski noted. “There’s reason to think that the Christians might instead have said, OK, we’ll just call this a Christian festival,” he explained.