In the Middle Ages, people began to send love letters on Valentine’s Day. Medieval Europeans believed that birds began to mate on February 14th. There’s also Saint Valentine, for whom the famous day is named. Archaeologists, who unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, are not sure if there was one Valentine or more.
Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentines, all of whom were martyred on February 14th; at least two of those were in Italy during the 3rd century. The most popular candidate for St. Valentine was a 3rd century Roman priest who practiced Christianity and performed secret marriages against direct orders from Emperor Claudius II, who believed single soldiers were more likely to join his army. Legend has it that Valentine sent a friend (the jailer’s daughter) a note signed “From Your Valentine” before he was executed on February 14th in 270 A.D. (That phrase is still used on today’s cards!).
Early Christians were happier with the idea of a holiday honoring the saint of romantic causes than with one recognizing a pagan festival. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius named February 14th in honor of St. Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. In 1969, Pope Paul VI dropped it from the calendar. The blend of Roman festival and Christian martyrdom had caught on and Valentine’s Day was here to stay.