On February 14, around the year 278 A.D., Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed.
Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.
To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. 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 him beheaded. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270 A.D.
Another legend says he was beheaded because he helped Christians escape from brutal Roman prisons.
In 498 A.D., just over 200 years after Valentine’s execution, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s love for God and humanity has made him “the patron of love” in the Roman Catholic Church and for people around the world.
By the mid-1700s it was common practice for friends and sweethearts to exchange trinkets made in the shape of hearts or to send handwritten notes of affection on February 14.
Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it “From Your Valentine”—a sentiment still used today.