There seems to have been three of four martyrs who could have been the St. Valentine we celebrate today, but I like to think he is a bishop called Valentine, who lived and preached in Rome during third century AD.
Emperor Claudius II jailed him for his refusal to cease holding Christian marriages, in defiance of Claudius’ orders. He was also guilty of helping Christians persecuted by Claudius, which didn’t go down particularly well! Claudius demanded that people worship no one except himself, and persecution was a pretty effective way of ensuring it.
It seemed that a friendship between Valentine and Claudius was unthinkable, but then Valentine performed a miracle. Emperor Claudius’ daughter was blind; a tragic fact that troubled Claudius. Legend has it that Valentine cured her of her blindness by writing letters to her. It was this act of kindness that allowed Claudius to befriend Valentine. However, it was a short-lived friendship as, when Valentine sought to convert the Emperor to Christianity, Claudius condemned Valentine to death.
Just before his execution, Valentine wrote his final letter to Claudius’ daughter signing it “from your Valentine”. He was stoned and beaten and then beheaded before being buried in a Christian cemetery in Rome.
In 496 AD Pope Gelasius gave Valentine a feast day in celebration of Valentine’s Christian martyrdom, and thus canonised him and raised him up to be Saint Valentine. The Feast of Saint Valentine has been observed each February 14th ever since, but it wasn’t until the late middle ages that Saint Valentine became an icon for love and romance. One thousand years on, his appeal is as strong today as it has ever been.
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