Classic Clarion : The History of Valentine’s Day

Heather Cornett, Clarion Staff 2003

Every February, across the country, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But most do not know who this saint really is or why people celebrate the holiday.

Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named after Valentine or Valentinus, all whom were martyred. One legend argues that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to the legend, Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine’ greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl who may have been his jailer’s daughter, who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is assumed that he wrote her a letter, which he signed ‘From your Valentine,’ an expression that is still used today.

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is cloudy, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and most importantly, romantic figure. It’s no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.