Saint Valentine was a priest in Rome in the third century who had previously been a physician. Historians know little of his early years. As a priest, St. Valentine became famous for marrying Christian couples in Rome who were in love but could not get legally married, due to the ban on marriage during the reign of Emperor Claudius II.
Claudius was intent on recruiting a large army. He believed that if the men were entering into marriage this would be an obstacle to recruiting new soldiers. Further, the Emperor desired to prevent his existing soldiers from getting married because he thought that marriage would distract them from their work.
When the Emperor Claudius came to learn that St. Valentine was performing weddings, he sent Valentine to jail. While imprisoned, St. Valentine taught people about the love of Jesus Christ. He befriended his jailer, Asterious, who became so impressed with Valentine’s wisdom that he asked Valentine to help his daughter, Julia, with her lessons. Julia was blind and needed someone to read material for her to learn it. Valentine became friends with Julia through his work with her when she came to visit him in jail.
Emperor Claudius also came to like St. Valentine. He offered to pardon St. Valentine and set him free if he would renounce Jesus Christ and give a pinch of incense in worship of the Roman gods. Not only did the Saint refuse to apostatize, he called upon Emperor Claudius to profess belief in Christ as Lord. St. Valentine’s fidelity to the Lord cost him his life. Emperor Claudius was so enraged at St. Valentine’s response that he him to death. He was executed on February 14, 269, according to church tradition. St. Valentine, it seems, was a martyr for upholding the importance of love and marriage. He gave his life to achieve this purpose.
The bones of St. Valentine were sent to Ireland in 1836, a gift from Pope Gregory XVI to the Carmelite Monastery in Dublin. The church is a year-round pilgrimage site for married couples and those preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage. That couples come to pray before the relics of St. Valentine shows their hope that his blessing will ensure that they stay together, as they seek commitment, endurance, constancy, and above all, belief in the sacrament of matrimony.
Before he was killed, Valentine wrote a last note to encourage Julia to stay close to Jesus and to thank her for being his friend. He signed the note: “From your Valentine.” As the note was being read to Julia, she miraculously regained her vision. That note inspired people to begin writing their own loving messages to people on Valentine’s Feast Day, February 14th, the day of his martyrdom, as they asked blessings for their loved ones by his heavenly intercession.
Our beloved St. Valentine was beaten, stoned, and beheaded on February 14, 270. People who remembered his loving service to many young couples began celebrating his life, and he came to be regarded as a saint through whom God had worked to help people in miraculous ways. By 496, Pope Gelasius designated February 14th as Valentine’s official feast day.