Most people will agree that Valentine's Day is celebrated in honor of St. Valentine, but "which" Valentine? As many as eight Valentine's (Valentinus) have been identified!
Of these men, the stories of the most prominent ones provide incidents that might have given reason for St. Valentine's Day.
Under the rule of Emporer Claudius II, Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. "Claudius the Cruel" was unsuccessfully trying to recruit men to serve as soldiers for his wars. He believed that the men did not want leave their wives, families and sweethearts. As a result, he became angry and forbade priests to perform any new marriages.
According to one legend, Valentine, Bishop of Interamna, feeling that this law was unjust, aided the Christians and secretly married couples. When Claudius learned of this "friend of lovers," Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to death. He was clubbed, stoned, then beheaded. (The Romans were a rather sadistic bunch!) Valentine suffered martydrom on the 14th day of February, 270 AD.
Another legend tells that Claudius had ordered all Romans to worship twelve gods, and he had made it a crime, punishable by death, to associate with Christians. But Valentine, a young priest in Rome, was dedicated to the ideals of Christ, and not even the threat of death could keep him from practicing his beliefs.
Some believers cite that Valentine used to assist Christian martyrs in their escape from Roman prisons to avoid the grim fates awaiting them (lion pits, ravishment, and torture). Unfortunatley, he was captured and sent to Prefect of Rome. The Prefect ordered Valentine to be clubbed and then beheaded on the 14th day of February, 270 AD.
Again, depending on the source, we're told that Valentine was a kind-hearted physician who practiced medicine out of a small room in his home. He always made a special effort to offer his patients medicines that tasted good. He would take care to mix bitter tasting medicines with wine, milk or honey to make them more palatable for the sick and injured. He cleansed wounds with wine vinegar and would use freshly ground herbs and roots to relieve pain. Religion was also a significant part of his life and he would lead others to prayer. He often prayed for the health of his patients.
One day a jailer for Claudius knocked on Valentine's door, clutching his blind daughter, Asteruis, in his arms. He had learned of Valentine's medical and spiritual healing abilities and appealed to Valentine to treat his daughter's blindness.
Valentine knew that her condition would be difficult to treat, but he told the man that he would do his best. The little girl was examined, given an ointment for her eyes and a series of re-visits were scheduled.
Several weeks passed and the girl's sight was not restored. One day, Valentine received a visit from some Roman soldiers who arrested him, destroyed his medicines and admonished him for his religious views. Knowing his execution was imminent, Valentine asked the jailer for a paper, pen and ink. He jotted a farewell note and handed it to the jailer to give to his blind daughter. Valentine was executed later that day, on the 14th of February.
When the jailer returned home, his little daughter opened the note and discovered a flower inside. The message said, "From your valentine." As the little girl held the flower in the palm of her hand, she saw brilliant colors for the first time in her life! Her eyesight was completely restored!
Another version of Valentine is that during his imprisonment the last weeks of his life, a remarkable thing happened. Seeing that he was a man of learning, the jailer asked whether his daughter, Julia, might be brought to Valentine for lessons. She had been blind since birth.
Valentine read stories of Rome's history to her. He described the world of nature to her. He taught her arithmetic and told her about God. She saw the world through his eyes, trusted in his wisdom, and found comfort in his quiet strength.
One day, as they prayed together, a brilliant light appeared in the prison cell. Radiant, Julia cried, "Valentine, I can see! I can see!"
On the eve of his death, Valentine wrote a last note to Julia, urging her to stay close to God, and he signed it, "From your Valentine."
His sentence was carried out the next day, February 14, 270 A.D., near a gate that was later named Porta Valenti in his memory. He was buried at what is now the Chruch of Praxedes in Rome.
It is said that Julia herself planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Today, the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.
A search can find even more legends concerning St. Valentine. Who knows which is the most correct. It appears that all of the Valentine's eventually convulated into one. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius declared the day in honor of St. Valentine. Through the centuries, the holiday became a time to exchange love messages. St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers.