For many years the Church recognized three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus. Valentine was a priest or bishop, and possibly a physician as well, during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young, unattached males. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, continued to perform marriages in secret for young lovers. Valentine's defiance was discovered, and Claudius ordered him put to death. Another legend suggests that Valentine was martyred for helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured.
In the account which says the saint was the one who sent the very first valentine, he falls in love with the beautiful jailer's daughter who studies scripture and prays with him in prison. She had been blind since birth, but one day during their prayer time she is miraculously cured of her blindness. The night before he was beheaded, he sends a note of affection to her, asking her to always remain near to God and continually thankful for her healing miracle. The note is signed "From Your Valentine." Yet another version of this same story says that Valentine had been put under the charge of General Asterius, who was supposed to persuade him to deny Christ. The woman restored to sight in this account is General Asterius's daughter, who had been afflicted with blindness for two years. As a result of this miracle Valentine is allowed to baptize Asterius and his whole household before he is killed. A third St. Valentine died in Africa, and also has a February 14 feast day. Nothing else is known about him.
Early church missionaries often encouraged participation in Christian festivals by incorporating elements of familiar pagan traditions. In pagan Rome, the Festival of Lupercus (known as Lupercia or Lupercalia) began on February 15, and February 14 was a holiday to celebrate Juno, the goddess of women and marriage. On February 14 the pagan tradition was for boys to draw the names of girls out of a jar, and this girl would then be their partner for the length of the festival. Other accounts say that a young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for an entire year. Pope Gelasius I was, understandably, less than thrilled with this custom. So he changed the lottery to have young men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year, and instead of Lupercus, the patron of the feast became Valentine. For Roman men, however, the day continued to be an occasion to seek the affections of women, and it became a tradition to give out handwritten messages of admiration that included Valentine's name.It was a common belief in Europe in the Middle Ages that February 14 was the day when mating birds chose their partners. Mid-February was often the beginning of Spring, so "spring fever" was certainly stirring up romantic feelings in humans as well as birds. Thus mid-February became a time dedicated to love, and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved. Since St. Valentine's feast fell on February 14, he became the patron saint of love and lovers, betrothed couples, of young people and happy marriages. In Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Parlement of Fowles' (Parliament of Fowls) we find these lines: For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's Day / Where every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
There are several ancient Celtic customs associated with St. Valentine. On Valentine's Day and also the Eve of St. Valentine's Day it was the custom for unmarried young men to draw a female name from a ballot to find out whom they may marry or handfast with. Valentine slips containing a girl's name to be courted would be worn by a boy on the arm of his shirt—this may be the origin of "wearing your heart on your sleeve" meaning being obvious about your love for someone. The St. Valentine's Day ballot was especially popular in Scotland. A gift would be sent to the girl whose name was drawn. It was also the belief that the first person met on February 14 of the opposite sex, excepting members of the family, would later become a romantic or marriage partner.
The ancient Celtic tradition of casting a love stone is often associated with Valentine's Day. In many Celtic villages citizens were identified by a colored stone kept at their home with their name or family symbol engraved upon it. This stone was to follow the person wherever they traveled. When they died it would be cast into the sea and the name on the stone would be their identity for eternity.
Once there were two lovers from warring villages who were forbidden to see each other. The couple had to meet under the cover of night to exchange gifts and words of love. The two were inseparable, but fate was cruel and one night their secret was uncovered. Under penalty of death they were warned never to see each other again; determined not to be separated from each other, they fled deep into a forest above the sea. The young lovers rejected their citizen stones and created a new one, a single stone engraved with both their names upon it as a symbol of their love. Then the young lovers climbed to the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean and cast their love stone into the waves. As it fell they spoke this verse: "May the names inscribed here be forever united in love so long as this stone hides in the deep waters. May those who seek to separate us find us not, just as they can never find this stone." The stone sank to the bottom of the ocean and was never seen again. Neither were the lovers.
If you would like to continue this tradition, here is a modern day version of casting the lovers' stone. (It is not the same as casting a spell, simply a gesture of love and remembrance.) Find a flat, smooth stone large enough to hold your and your love's first name. Carve or paint your names upon the stone. Find a body of water (preferably an ocean). Share a meal there with only you and the one you love. Make a vow during the meal to always love and cherish your mate and to defend him or her in this life. When no one else is around, cast the stone into the ocean. According to Celtic lore you will be brought together in the afterlife.
There is more to St. Valentine than just love. He is the patron saint of epileptics, and, like Julius Caesar, may have suffered from the ' falling sickness' himself. This is why epilepsy was once known as Valentine's sickness. He is also the patron saint of beekeepers, but the connection there is fuzzy, perhaps related to the sweetness of honey and sweet gifts as tokens of love. Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D., but the Roman Catholic Church dropped St. Valentine from the calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts in 1969.
Valentine is often pictured in icons as a bishop with a crippled or epileptic child at his feet, a bishop with a rooster nearby, a bishop refusing to adore an idol, a bishop being beheaded, a bishop overlooking a betrothed couple, and a priest giving sight to a blind girl.
There are many other St. Valentines with feast days on different dates. One of the popes was even named Valentine: he was not a saint, but there was a Pope Valentine for about 40 days in 827. The St. Valentine we commemorate today is mentioned as an illustrious martyr in many of the earliest martyrologies, including those of St Gregory, and the Venerable Bede. Most accounts of St. Valentine say that he died or was beheaded on February 14, 270.