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St Valentine’s Day – A Brief History

Once again the clock ticks on to St Valentine’s Day next week and in the UK alone around 32,000,000 cards will be exchanged on Tuesday, February 14th, as they do every year. And not just cards, but flowers, particularly red roses, chocolates and gifts accompanying the cards in huge quantities too and the figure in Britain will be dwarfed by the frenzy of love activity in the USA, with more than 190 million cards being sent. So how did such a major date in the calendar start? Here we look at St Valentine’s Day – a brief history.

St Valentine is actually a hazy figure in history and there may actually have been more than one, but the person we know most about is a Roman priest Valentinus, who lived in the 3rd century AD, under the emperor Claudius II, who had taken it upon himself to ban marriage among Roman soldiers as he believed that married soldiers were weaker.

Valentinus incurred the wrath of Claudius II by secretly continuing to marry soldiers and also offered pastoral care to Christians who were persecuted within Roman culture. He was therefore arrested and interviewd by the Emporer Claudius personally who attempted to convert Valentinus to Roman Paganism to save his life. Valentinus refused and attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity, he was sentenced to death and thrown into jail, to await his fate. During his time of imprisonment he was befriended by his jailer Astorius, who allowed his daughter Julia to visit Valentinus. Julia was blind and Astorius hoped that Valentinus would cure her.

Valentinus, did indeed cure Julia’s blindness but fell in love with the girl too and they exchanged many letters, the final one being sent on the day of his execution the 14th February, which was signed ‘Your Valentine’. As a consequence of his actions Astorius, Julia and their 44 strong household converted to Christianity, so it was felt that Valentinus’s death was not in vain.

The rest is history, as they say but probably not the history Saint Valentinus ever expected!