There have been a dozen or more St. Valentines over the centuries, and there is some debate about which one inspired the holiday we know today. There was even a Pope Valentine, who served for just over a month in A.D. 827.
There are two accounts of St. Valentines who are likely to have inspired the holiday. One says he was a temple priest in Rome who was ordered beaten, stoned and beheaded by the emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples to wed at a time when Roman law forbade young people from marrying. Another says he was the Bishop of Terni (though in that account he was also beheaded near Rome by Claudius). Both accounts may be true. It's thought by some that there were two priests of that name at the time.
A third Saint Valentine, who was martyred in Africa, lived at around the same time, but virtually nothing is known about him.
Valentine's feast day was established on February 14 in 496 A.D. by Pope Gelasius I. The day did not then have a romantic connotation.
Though Valentine is most closely associated today with love and romance (he's the patron saint of engaged couples, happy marriage, love, and lovers), he is also the patron saint of bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, the plague, travellers, and young people.
Legend has it that on the day of his execution, St. Valentine wrote a note to his jailer's daughter, whom he'd healed of blindness. He is said to have signed the note, "from your Valentine," which some say led to the idea of a man appealing to a woman's heart by asking to be her valentine.
In artistic depictions of St. Valentine, he is frequently accompanied by roses and birds.
Enough confusion still exists around the events of St. Valentine's life that beginning in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church omitted him from the Catholic calendar of saints for universal veneration. His name still appears on the Church's list of officially recognized saints for local veneration, and he's still beloved by many.
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