The Catholic Church’s attempt to paper over a popular pagan fertility rite with the clubbing death and decapitation of one of its own martyrs is the origin of this lovers’ holiday.
As early as the 4th century B.C., Romans engaged in an annual young man’s rite of passage to the god Lupercus.
The names of teenage women were placed in a box and drawn at random by adolescent men; thus, a man was assigned a woman companion, for their mutual erotic entertainment and pleasure, for the duration of a year, after which another lottery was staged.
Determined to put an end to this 800-year-old practice, the early church fathers sought a "lovers’’ saint to replace the deity Lupercus. They found a likely candidate in Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred 200+ years earlier.
In Rome in A.D. 270, Valentine had enraged the mad emperor Claudius II, who had issued an edict forbidding marriage. Claudius felt that married men made poor soldiers, because they were loath to leave their families for battle.
Valentine invited young lovers to come to him in secret, where he joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. Claudius learned of this "friend of lovers," and had the bishop brought to the palace.
The emperor attempted to convert him to the Roman gods. Valentine refused to renounce Christianity and imprudently attempted to convert the emperor. On February 24, 270, Valentine was clubbed, stoned, then beheaded.
While Valentine was in prison awaiting execution, he fell in love with the blind daughter of the jailer. Through his unswerving faith, he miraculously restored her sight. He signed a farewell message to her "From Your Valentine," a phrase that would live long after its author died.