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The History of Valentine's Day

The history of Valentine’s Day is not as certain and agreed upon by historians as other holidays. We'll present the facts that are know and the history that can be credibly proven!

Competing Theories

There are several different theories about the origin of Valentine's Day, which is also called "Saint Valentine's Day" or "the Feast of Saint Valentine".

Roman and Pagan roots

The ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia was celebrated from 13 to 15 February. The festival was a fertility celebration, so the connections to love, or at least, lust, are clear. Among other events which somehow fell by the wayside over the centuries,  Roman men sacrificed goats, then used their skins to whip women, believing this would make the women fertile. And you thought your boyfriend or husband didn't get you a good Valentine's gift.  Be glad your weren't around in Roman times...

Christianity intervenes

When Christian Popes began to try to popularize Christianity in the Roman empire, they often did so by coopting pagan Roman holidays, such as Saturnalia and Christmas.  Around 496 AD, Pope Gelasius Presumably saw the festival of Lupercalia as a good opportunity to turn this pagan festival into a Christian feast day by declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day, in honor of a Catholic saint, who was martyred around 297 AD.

Who was St. Valentine?

There are at least 2 or 3 different historical figures considered to be St. Valentine. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

  1. Around 197 AD, a A Christian known as Valentine of Terni, who was the Bishop of Interamna, was imprisoned, tortured and beheaded during the reign of Emperor Aurelian. Little is heard or known about him, so most historias do not attribute Valentine's Day to him.
  2. A commonly accepted St. Valentine lived in the 3rd century, when Rome was still pagan and persecuting Christians. St. Valentine was arrested for trying to convert people to Christianity. The emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II) had him imprisoned and martyred.
  3. Another variation says St. Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during Claudius' reign. The story says St. Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and while in prison, he tried  to convert the emperor Claudius to Christianity. Claudius sentenced Valentine to death, having him beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14, 269. Some accounts claim he was executed either in the year 269, 270, 273 or 280.  Still other accounts say while in prison, he healed the jailer's blind daughter. On the day of his execution, it is said, he left the girl a note signed, "Your Valentine."

Most accounts agree St. Valentine was martyred and then buried on the Via Flaminia to the north of Rome.

Archaeologists unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, so we know he really did exist. And in 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.

Next: The history of the Valentine's Day card



  1. NPR The Dark Origins Of Valentine's Day
  2. National Geographic
  3. Catholic Online
  4. History Extra
  5. The Telegraph
  6. Wikipedia