Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine, one being Saint Valentine of Rome who was a priest martyred about AD 269 and buried on the Via Flaminia, the Roman road that led to and from Rome over the Apennine Mountains. His relics are said to be at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome and also at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland—the result of a gift by Pope Gregory XVI.
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. He had healed her of her blindness. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legend is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'Christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them clean, and then salt and a type of wheat called spelt were sprinkled throughout the interior. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February (i.e. February 15) was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.
Boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with goat hide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. The Roman 'lottery' system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed by the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D as a feast day in order to superimpose Christianity on a pagan holiday.
Valentine may have been a symbol of love, but no truer love can be found than in the person of Jesus Christ who gave his life for his bride, the Church. This is why he gave his disciples and by extension us a commandment of love.