St. Valentine’s Day has been a recognized holiday for many centuries. Nowadays it is commonly associated with hearts, flowers, and a cherub with magic love arrows. However, the history of St. Valentine’s Day isn’t so commercialized, instead the stories of St. Valentine are those of heroic martyrs.
The tales of St. Valentine are not entirely coherent due to the multitudes of versions and the changes made through retellings since the third century. There were three possible St. Valentines who may have led to the popular holiday we recognize on Feb. 14, all of which were martyrs. However, two stand out as possible inspirations for the celebration.
One legend tells of a priest named Valentine who helped wed soldiers in secrecy when Emperor Claudius II of Rome outlawed marriage for young men, believing that the best soldiers were without wives and families. Eventually, Valentine was caught and executed for his crimes. The romantic tale of a heroic and just priest arguably led to the birth of the holiday, St. Valentine’s Day.
However, there is another tale that may be behind the holiday. Once again, a heroic Valentine pursued justice and put his life on the line for others. Valentine sought to free the Christians from Roman prisons and their harsh punishments. It was in the jail as a prisoner where it is said Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Before his death, according to the legend, he wrote history’s first valentine to the young woman, signing, “From your Valentine.”
While Valentine’s Day may seem cheesy, there is a long- standing history behind the holiday of heroism, love, and justice that has spoken to people for over a thousand years. The holiday may have mutated into a storm of red and pink hearts and cavity risks, but one should consider the backstory of the holiday for an inspirational tale.