It all happened in Rome in the year 269AD…
The short story, if you’re not that great at reading, is that there were 2 or 3 chaps called Valentine, one of which was a priest who lived in Rome. He helped Roman soldiers to marry when they were forbidden to by the Christian faith at the time. As a result, he was executed on the 14th February, around 270AD, the year uncertain (that’s funny, when we’re so definite it was the 14th of Feb, why didn’t someone accurately record the year?!). Since then, he’s been a patron saint of lovers.
The longer story includes possibly two different men living in Italy, in the 3rd Century, and a third in North Africa.
(i) St Valentine of Rome – a priest who was beheaded on 14th February – according to history he made an attempt to convert the Roman Emperor Claudius II to Christianity, who once enraged, tried to get Valentine to firstly renounce his faith and then when he refused, he ordered him to be beaten with clubs and stones, and later executed
(ii) St Valentine of Interamna (now known as Terni – Italy) was a bishop, also martyred (unclear if this was in fact the same Valentine, a bishop from Intermna, who went on to be a priest at Rome)
(iii) St Valentine – also martyred in North Africa
What is thought, is that the stories met up and the name Valentine became synonymous with ”Valentius” – which derived from the Latin word Valens meaning 'worthy,' 'strong' and 'powerful'.
There is not much more known about this first Valentine of Rome, but in 496AD Pope Gelasius I described St Valentine as a martyr, along with others “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God”. He dedicated the 14th of February to celebrate St Valentine, and his strong faith in Christianity, and to replace a previous pagan festival called Lupercalia which was getting out of hand at the time.
The celebration of St Valentine’s day was later spread to England and France by monks in the Middle ages, and the tradition has carried on; historically associated with romance, and lovers exchanging handwritten messages of love.
Over time we’ve added to these love messages, with gifts like flowers, boxes of chocolates and jewellery becoming popular. A far cry from the original Valentine who suffered a brutal death, with no such love and gifting, dying to help others marry.