As early as the
fourth century B.C., the Romans engaged in an annual young man's rite to
passage to the God Lupercus. The names of the teenage women were placed in
a box and drawn at random by adolescent men; thus, a man was assigned a
woman companion for the duration of the year, after which another lottery
was staged. After eight hundred years of this cruel practice, the early
church fathers sought to end this practice... They found an answer in
Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred some two hundred years earlier.
According to church tradition St. Valentine was a priest near Rome in
about the year 270 A.D. At that time the Roman Emperor Claudius-II who had
issued an edict forbidding marriage.
This was around when the heyday of Roman empire had almost come to an end.
Lack of quality administrators led to frequent civil strife. Learning
declined, taxation increased, and trade slumped to a low, precarious
level. And the Gauls, Slavs, Huns, Turks and Mongolians from Northern
Europe and Asian increased their pressure on the empire's boundaries. The
empire was grown too large to be shielded from external aggression and
internal chaos with existing forces. Thus more of capable men were
required to be recruited as soldiers and officers. When Claudius became
the emperor, he felt that married men were more emotionally attached to
their families, and thus, will not make good soldiers. So to assure
quality soldiers, he banned marriage.
Valentine, a bishop , seeing the trauma of young lovers, met them in a
secret place, and joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. Claudius
learned of this "friend of lovers," and had him arrested. The emperor,
impressed with the young priest's dignity and conviction, attempted to
convert him to the roman gods, to save him from certain execution.
Valentine refused to recognize Roman Gods and even attempted to convert
the emperor, knowing the consequences fully.
On February 24, 270, Valentine was executed.
"From your Valentine"
While Valentine was in prison awaiting his fate, he came in contact with
his jailor, Asterius. The jailor had a blind daughter. Asterius requested
him to heal his daughter. Through his faith he miraculously restored the
sight of Asterius' daughter. Just before his execution, he asked for a pen
and paper from his jailor, and signed a farewell message to her "From Your
Valentine," a phrase that lived ever after.
Valentine thus becomes a Patron Saint, and spiritual overseer of an annual
festival. The festival involved young Romans offering women they admired,
and wished to court, handwritten greetings of affection on February 14.
The greeting cards acquired St.Valentine's name.
The Valentine's Day card spread with Christianity, and is now celebrated
all over the world. One of the earliest card was sent in 1415 by Charles,
duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was a prisoner in the Tower of
London. The card is now preserved in the British Museum.