Valentine’s Day: who is St Valentine and how did the day of love originate?

Valentine’s Day: who is St Valentine and how did the day of love originate?
Valentine's Day is dedicated to celebrating love and relationships (Photo: Shutterstock)

Valentine’s Day is an occasion that is both loved and loathed, but it is a day that has been celebrated across the globe for thousands of years.

The day is dedicated to celebrating love and relationships, with cards and gifts customarily exchanged to show those closest to you how much they mean.

Who was St Valentine?

Valentine’s Day takes its name from a famous saint, although there is much mystery surrounding who he was.

The most popular belief is that St Valentine was a priest from Rome who served during the third century AD.

When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those who had a wife and children, he outlawed marriage for all young men. St Valentine felt this decree was unjust and decided to defy Claudius by continuing to perform marriages for young couples in secret.

When his defiance was found out, Claudius threw him in jail and ordered that he be sentenced to death.

In prison, St Valentine is said to have fallen in love with the jailer’s daughter who visited him during his confinement. When he was taken to be killed on February 14, he is said to have sent her a love letter that was signed “from your Valentine” – an expression that is still widely used today.

However, other stories suggest that St Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, in which they were often beaten and tortured.

By the Middle Ages, St Valentine had become the patron saint of love and lovers in England and France.

When Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to pagan celebrations of the Feast of Lupercalia (a Roman fertility festival), he declared in 496 AD that February 14 be celebration as St Valentine’s Day.

Lovers then began to express their affections from that day onwards, every year.

The relic of St Valentine was moved to Blessed St John Duns Scotus in 1999 (Photo: Shutterstock)
The relic of St Valentine was moved to Blessed St John Duns Scotus in 1999 (Photo: Shutterstock)

‘The body of Saint Valentine’

In 1868, a wealthy french family made a donation of a small wooden box labelled “Corpus Valentini Martyris” – or the “body of Saint Valentine” – to the Franciscan church.

The relic was then sent to Saint Francis’ Church, in the neighbourhood of Gorbals in Glasgow, where it sat in almost complete anonymity for more than a century. It was later moved to the nearby Blessed St John Duns Scotus in 1999, where it has been given a place of honour at the church’s entrance.

  1. Every year at the Feast of St Valentine, the friars say prayers for lovers.

The presence of the body led Glasgow to become labelled as the ‘City of Love’.

How did Valentine’s Day originate?

Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in the year 496 and is thought to have originated from a Roman festival called Lupercalia, which was held in the middle of February at the start of springtime.

It is believed that as part of the celebrations, boys and girls each drew names from a box and would be boyfriend and girlfriend during the festival – they would sometimes even get married.

Over time, the church later wanted to turn the festival into a Christian celebration and decided to use it as a day to also remember St Valentine.

As time went on, St Valentine’s name began to be used by people to express their feelings to the ones they loved – later becoming known as Valentine’s Day.