For hundreds of years, people all over the world have celebrated St. Valentine’s Day. But very little is known about the man whose life the holiday honors. Much of St. Valentine’s story is a mystery, clouded by centuries of myth and legend.
According to one account, Valentine was a young priest who lived in third-century Rome. Constantly at war, Emperor Claudius II recognized that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families so he forbade young people to marry. Out of compassion for couples in love, Valentine defied the Emperor and continued to perform wedding ceremonies in secret.
Some say Valentine further antagonized the Emperor by continuing to preach the gospel. He comforted, encouraged, and even rescued victims of religious persecution. Eventually Valentine was arrested and thrown into prison, where according to another story he himself fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, Julia. Valentine poured out his heart on paper, writing the most beautiful love letters to her. When the date was set for his execution, he penned one last epistle to his sweetheart, which he signed: “From Your Valentine.”
Ever since, people everywhere have been moved by the kindness, the compassion, the devoted love of this heroic young man. His example has inspired us to express our feelings for our loved ones, just as he did, by putting them in writing in our very own “valentines.” Of course the most significant expression of Valentine’s love was the action he took the self-sacrifice that led to his imprisonment and ultimately cost him his life.