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St. Valentine - Valentine's Day History, Legends and Story

Happy Valentine’s Day! Isn’t it always a nice feeling when some cute single guy or girl approaches you and gives you a romantic gift? It’s a small sentiment that goes a long way.

And of course, you sure do hear a lot about Valentine's Day, as it's one day when people around the world indulge in public displays of affection without hesitation. But have you ever really thought about the man, the myth and the legend behind Valentine's Day?

True, it's not going to matter much at the career front but it will make you look super smart in front of your sweetheart. So let's discuss who St. Valentine really was.

History of Valentine's Day

Who Was Valentinus?
Valentinus, as was his Latin name, was a third century Roman saint. He was commemorated on February 14th. Ironically, not much is known about the actual man beyond his Saint status, his name and the day of his death and commemoration. He died on February 14th, and it is believed that he died in Via Flaminia.

Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church does not technically consider the original Valentinus as a martyr, and the last count of that was done in 354—adequate time for sure. Valentinus is believed to have expired in 269, but it was over 200 years before Pope Gelasius I established the first Valentine’s feast. Even Gelasius himself said that his name was known, though the acts he did “are known only to God.”

Imposter Valentines?
Adding to the complication of Valentine’s Feast, we actually have multiple Valentine’s through the ages. The Catholic Encyclopedia actually mentions three different “Saint Valentines” and somehow they all have a connection with the date of February 14th. Who were the other Valentines? One was a Roman priest and the other was a bishop, and the third was a Saint who suffered in Africa for, of course, an unknown reason.

Speculations are that two of the first Valentines may have actually died much later than the original “expiration date”, and thus they may even have some embellished tales attached to them. Others believe that most of the Valentines mentioned are actually the same Saint. According to Diocese of Terni, the Bishop Valentine died by Roman torture in 273, which was a close enough date to 269 to convince some of the relation. Officially speaking, the “real” Saint Valentine is believed to be the one from Via Flaminia—the one linked with February 14th. Since the ancient times, even more Saint Valentines have come around, including Valentines that died as far as 715.

Roman “hearsay” suggests (mainly through the Nuremberg Chronicle world history illustrations) that Valentine was possibly a Roman priest martyred during the administration of Claudius II. Now here comes some very romantic embellishment; the Saint was caught marrying a Christian couple and helping other Christians, which was a definite no-no at the time, since Claudius hated Christians even more than your typical atheist on Facebook.

Claudius Doesn’t Take Kindly to Door Knockers
Claudius II, by legend, didn’t actually condemn Valentine right away. He only did so when Valentine dared to try to convert the Emperor. Reportedly, he was beaten with stones and then beheaded after a failed execution. Then again, you also have another “hagiography” illustration suggesting Bishop Valentine actually made friends with a Roman judge (by curing his daughter). However, the story ends similarly, with Claudius condemning Valentine to death after attempting to convert Christian.

The question is, how did Valentine’s death evolve into the lovey dovey chocolate-loving fornicating holiday that Valentine’s Day is today? St. Valentine’s Day is actually fairly new, having been reintroduced into modern society in the 1700s by authors Alban Butler and Francis Douce. However, their intention of making a Valentine’s Day was mainly to make a Christian-appropriate version of Lupercalia, which was an age old festival (existing even before Rome) which sought to send away evil spirits and cleanse the city.

However, much of the icons and love symbols associated with Valentine’s Day actually come from Geoffrey Chaucer and his “Parliament of Foules” work. For record, the other Valentine, the bishop, is usually not associated with any sort of “lovers” saint.

Though he’s not recalled as a martyr, the Catholic Church still considers him a Saint, but has chosen to remove him from the Calendar for Universal Liturgical Veneration because of his dubious origins.

Valentine’s Day in Modern Times
What we actually understand as the commercial Valentine’s Day comes to us mainly because of some shrewd advertising. In the late 1700s, a book entitled The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published in Britain as a means of helping young suitors develop flowery poetry to woo lovers. Eventually, cards were produced and mailed anonymously, allowing greater freedom for some rather “randy” verses between lovers. The popularity of these cards grew and as time passed, it graduated to the point of national “holy day.” These cards didn’t come to the U.S. until the mid-1800s.

By the 20th century, it wasn't just about the sentiments of lovers–it was about the gift-giving and these hot love feelings were fanned by retailers and merchants, soon culminating in a rose, chocolate and diamond-crazy event. While you might think that it is the lovers who mainly celebrate this special day of love, in reality, schools are the most common place where young boys and girls exchange flowers, cards and other gifts to rejoice the occasion.

Of course, now we are embarking on a new age: the Internet age–the one that has already demonstrated the advantages of virtual mail, virtual messages and now virtual Valentine's Day cards. Nearly 20 million e-Valentine's day cards are sent every year. We also have the postmodern generation, creating what you might call mock-Valentine's Day e-cards which are virtual cards designed to insult people or just get a laugh from social networking fans

Either way, you have to admit that it is one day that you can thoroughly enjoy. And yes you don't necessarily have to send romantic gifts and flowers to express your love on this special day, a sweet little love note may also be enough to share your feelings and bring your loved one closer.