Valentine’s Day is a special time of the year. Unlike birthdays or Christmas, it’s a day where you devote all your time to your significant other, showing them your appreciation for changing your life for the better. This holiday, of course, doesn’t just apply to those who are in relationships but also gives those who are single the opportunity to show affection to that special someone who might not have caught on they had a secret admirer.
But where did this romantic tradition comes from, and who is this elusive St Valentine?
Though February has been long celebrated as the month of romance containing legacies of both Christian and Roman traditions, the man behind St Valentine is shrouded in mystery. Officially the Catholic Church recognises three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One of the legends tells that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that non-married men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he ultimately outlawed the marriage of young men. Valentine, realising the injustice, defied Claudius continuing to perform marriages in secret. When Valentine was eventually discovered, Claudius had him put to death. Some contest this belief, claiming that it was St Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true originator of the holiday. He, like the one before, was also put to death by Claudius II outside of Rome.
Christians at the time were dealt a rough hand, surviving under the constant threat of beatings & torture. This leads us to our last and final Valentine. Stories seem to suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to free imprisoned Christians. In one particular legend, the imprisoned Valentine sent the very first “valentine” greeting himself to a young girl, supposedly the jailer’s daughter, who often visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is believed that he penned her a letter signed “From your Valentine”, the very same expression which we use today. Though the story’s truth is riddled with obscurity, all stories and tales emphasise his character as a sympathetic, heroic and romantic figure. Thanks to his reputation, Valentine would become a symbol for romance by the Middle Ages, and one of the most important Saints celebrated in England & France.