Putting the "Saint" Back in St. Valentine's Day

St. ValentineAccording to Hallmark Cards, each year on Valentine's Day more than 163 million cards are exchanged - a quarter of all the cards that are sent in a year. How did the name of a third-century Christian martyr become linked with an annual celebration of romantic love? Let's explore the history of Valentine's Day...

The roots of Valentine's Day go back to the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia.

By the third century the golden era of Roman empire had almost come to an end. Lack of quality administrators led to frequent civil strife. Education declined, taxation increased and trade was difficult. The empire had grown too large to be shielded from external aggression and internal chaos with existing forces. More and more capable men were required to to be recruited as soldiers and officers to protect the nation from takeover. The Emperor Claudius II felt that married men were more emotionally attached to their families, and thus, would not make good soldiers. So to assure high quality soldiers he issued an edict forbidding marriage.

The ban on marriage was a great shock for the Romans. But they dared not voice their protest against the mighty emperor. The Christian bishop Saint Valentine also realized the injustice of the decree. Seeing the distriess of young couples who gave up all hopes of being united in marriage, he planned to counter the monarch's orders in secrecy. Whenever couples thought of marrying, they went to Saint Valentine who met them afterwards in a secret place, and joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. And thus he secretly performed many marriages for young couples. But such things cannot remain hidden for long and it was only a matter of time before Claudius came to know of these secret marriages and had the saint arrested.

While awaiting his sentence in prison, the saint was approached by his jailor, Asterius. Hearing of Saint Valentine's divinely given power of healing, Asterius requested the latter to restore the sight of his blind daughter, which he did.

When Claudius met Saint Valentine, he was said to have been impressed by the dignity and conviction of the holy bishop. However, Saint Valentine refused to agree with the emperor regarding the ban on marriage. It is also said that the emperor tried to convert Saint Valentine to the Roman gods but was unsuccessful in his efforts. The saint refused to recognize the Roman Gods and even attempted to convert the emperor to Christianity. This angered Claudius who gave the order of execution of Saint Valentine.

Meanwhile, it caused great grief to Asterius' young daughter to hear of her miraculous benefactor's imminent death. Legend says that just before his execution, Saint Valentine asked for a pen and paper from his jailor and signed a farewell message to the jailor's daughter "From Your Valentine" ... a phrase that lived ever after.