St. Valentine, Priest and Martyr, c. A.D. 268-270
The origin of St. Valentine, and how many St. Valentines there were, remains a mystery. Whoever he was, at least one Valentine really existed because archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine. In A.D. 496, Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom. The church in which he is buried existed already in the fourth century and was the first sanctuary Roman pilgrims visited upon entering the Eternal City.
One text states that Valentine (or Valentinus) was a Roman priest who was martyred during the persecution of Claudius the Goth (Claudius II). In addition to his other edicts against helping Christians, Claudius had also issued a decree forbidding marriage. In order to increase troops for his army, he forbade young men to marry, believing that single men made better soldiers than married men.
Valentine, along with St. Marius, aided the martyrs and other Christians during this Claudian persecution. He defied the decree forbidding marriage and urged young lovers to come to him in secret so that he could join them in the sacrament of matrimony. Eventually he was discovered by the Emperor, who promptly had Valentine arrested and brought before him. Because he was so impressed with the young priest, Claudius attempted to convert him to Roman paganism rather than execute him immediately. However, Valentine held steadfast and in turn attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity, at which point the Emperor condemned him to death. Valentine was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that didn't do it, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.
While in prison, Valentine was tended by the jailer, Asterius, and his blind daughter. Asterius' daughter was very kind to Valentine and brought him food and messages. They developed a friendship and toward the end of his imprisonment Valentine was able to convert both father and daughter to Christianity. Legend has it that he also miraculously restored the sight of the jailer's daughter.
The night before his execution, the priest wrote a farewell message to the girl and signed it affectionately "From Your Valentine," a phrase that lives on even to today. He was executed on February 14th, around 268-70 in Rome. The Martyrology says, "At Rome, on the Flaminian Way, the heavenly birthday of the blessed martyr Valentine, a priest. After performing many miraculous cures and giving much wise counsel he was beaten and beheaded under Claudius Caesar."
St. Valentine is the Patron Saint of bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travellers, young people. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses. The valentine has become the universal symbol of friendship and affection shared each anniversary of the priest's execution -- St. Valentine's Day.