The fully history of St. Valentine's Day is blurry and nobody really knows who the real St. Valentine was. There are many stories and myths and there were three different Valentines who were martyred. One was a priest who lived in Rome and was supposedly martyred in 269 A.D. The second, a bishop, lived in Interamna (modern-day Treni) in Italy. There was a very obscure third Valentine who met his fate in Africa. The first Valentine, from Rome, is generally considered the right person and is associated with a charming but also gruesome story.
During the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II from 268 to 270 A.D., it became important to recruit young men to the army, but the response was low because men didn’t want to leave their wives and families. In reaction to the low interest, the emperor decided to prohibit marriages. But Valentine didn’t accept this and secretly performed marriages between young Christian men and women. He was eventually caught and sentenced to death.
The future saint’s gaoler may or may not have had a young daughter but in any case a young girl began to visit Valentine. He may have fallen in love with her or maybe not, but they met frequently. On February 14, the day that he was to be executed, he wrote her a note and signed it, "From your Valentine." And that is supposedly the origin of the custom of writing one’s beloved a note and signing it with the well-known phrase.
Here's the gruesome part of the story. Valentine was beaten to death and decapitated. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius set aside Feb. 14 to honor St. Valentine, possibly to turn Roman minds from the licentious behavior associated with the pagan holiday Lupercalia. St. Valentine was removed from the Catholic Church’s list of official holidays for saints in the 1960s because so little was known about the real person and what he did that made him worthy of sainthood.
The Roman emperors were firmly against the Christians until the fourth century A.D. and persecuted them because they were considered a subversive group. One of the major stumbling blocks to accepting the Christian church was the many holidays in celebration of the pagan gods in which the people of the Roman Empire believed. For instance, the Apostle Paul found an altar in Athens to the deity who was called "Unknown God" and immediately used this unknown God to introduce Christianity into that community.
St. Valentine’s Day overlaps a Roman holiday, Lupercalia. This was a celebration of the founding of Rome. The legend goes that the founders, twin brothers named Romulus and Remus, were nourished as infants in a cave by a she-wolf until they were discovered and rescued. The Lupercalia was celebrated between Feb. 13 to 15.
A whole series of local customs were added to the St. Valentines’ Day celebration, although none of them seem to have been as wild as what the Romans did for the Lupercalia. Part of the worship at Romulus and Remus’s shrine was the sacrifice of a goat and a dog. The skin of the goat would be cut into strips and the men would take the bloody strips and hit them against all the women they could see. In the Middle Ages, men and women would draw each other’s names from a bowl and then wear the name on their sleeves for a week. In another tradition, if a woman saw a robin flying overhead she would marry a sailor, if she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man but be very happy, and if she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a very wealthy man. There are many more beliefs that seem unlikely to come true.
ValentIne’s Day In the MIddle Ages
The idea of having a special day for lovers was supposedly first noted in Geoffrey Chaucer’s work, "The Parliament of Foules," written in the latter part of the 14th century. His reference to St. Valentine’s Day is somewhat questionable and has been debated since he refers to the season when birds mate and that has to be a much later date than Feb. 14 in England, in May perhaps. But during the Middle Ages there was a general believe that birds did start preparing for mating during the middle of February.
In spite of Chaucer’s reference, it would seem that there was no celebration of St. Valentine’s Day in the modern sense until the 15th century. The earliest indication is a poem that is preserved in the British Library that was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife.
The practice of sending handwritten notes and small presents seems to have grown over time as it became customary to exchange anonymous greetings. But it wasn’t until the 17th century that the custom of celebrating St. Valentine’s Day really caught on. Americans commercialized the holiday. Credit for the first commercially produced St. Valentine’s Day card goes to an American woman, Esther A. Howland in the 1840s. She received a St. Valentine’s Day card from a friend in England and liked it so much she started producing them commercially using her father's printing press.
The idea caught on in the United States and many other countries. When simple cards didn’t seem to be enough, people began exchanging small presents. Then candy makers got into the act, promoting candy, especially chocolates. St. Valentine’s Day took off in many parts of Europe, including Turkey, which picked up the idea in the 1980s and sold tiny but creative small advertisements in newspapers.