Saint Valentine has been associated with at least three different individuals who lived during the third century AD, a priest in Rome, a bishop of Interamna -now the Italian city of Terni- and a Christian martyr in Africa. Many theologians believe that the priest in Rome and the bishop in Interamna were actually the same man (Catholic Encylopedia). The activities that may have landed Saint Valentine in prison were marrying young Christian couples, proselytizing, and offering comfort to other Christians suffering under Roman persecution.
Among the miracles attributed to Saint Valentine was the restoration of sight to a blind girl, who also happened to be the daughter of Saint Valentine’s jailer. Inspired by Saint Valentine’s wondrous deed, the jailer converted to Christianity. While this certainly contributed to Saint Valentine’s renown, it also may have helped seal his doom. When after suffering severe beatings at the orders of Emperor Claudius II Saint Valentine still refused to renounce Christ, he was beheaded. One story alleges that Saint Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and wrote her a farewell note which he signed “Your Valentine,” sowing the seeds of a romantic tradition.
As is the case with Christmas, the celebration of Valentine’s Day is one mingled with both Christian and pagan traditions. While Valentine is a saint of the Catholic Church, his holiday is more often associated with depictions of Cupid, the cherubic Roman god of love, whose arrows cause mortals to be stricken with amorous intentions. February 14 may have been selected by the Church because this was the time of a Roman fertility celebration called Lupercalia, during which young men and women would be paired with each other via a lottery-type random drawing, a practice which the Church deplored and attempted to undermine. Other sources state that February 14 was the date of Saint Valentine’s execution. The general consensus is that he died in 270 AD. 226 years later, February 14 officially became Valentine’s Day.
Saint Valentine has numerous associations, and is revered as the patron saint of lovers, happy marriages, engaged couples, young people, travelers and beekeepers. He is sometimes pictured surrounded by birds, which bolstered the notion in the 14th century that the middle of February was the time when foul chose their mates.
February 14 reached its heyday in the 16th century, but still inspires romantics, couples and would-be lovers worldwide to manifest their sentiments through cards, flowers, jewelry and other gifts. Valentine’s Day is second only to Christmas in the number of cards sent (History.com).