Valentine, a holy priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, is reported to have been executed on February 14, about the year 270 A.D.
Rome was involved in a number of unpopular and brutal campaigns under the reign of Claudius the Cruel. The emperor needed a big army, but he was having trouble recruiting soldiers to join his military alliances. Claudius claimed that Roman males were hesitant to join the war because they were devoted to their women and families.
Claudius put an end to the problem by prohibiting all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine disobeyed Claudius and continued to execute covert marriages for young couples, despite the decree’s injustice.
Claudius ordered Valentine’s execution after his acts were exposed. Valentine was apprehended and brought before the Prefect of Rome, who sentenced him to death by clubbing and having his head cut off. On or around February 14, in the year 270, the sentence was carried out.
Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it “From Your Valentine.”
For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death.
In truth, the exact origins and identity of St. Valentine are unclear. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February.” One was a priest in Rome, the second one was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy) and the third St. Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.
Legends vary on how the martyr’s name became connected with romance. The date of his death may have become mingled with the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love. On these occasions, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to the Feast of Lupercalia, and he declared that February 14 be celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day.
Gradually, February 14 became a date for exchanging love messages, poems and simple gifts such as flowers.