The day is most closely associated with the mutual exchange of love
notes in the form of "valentines." Modern Valentine symbols include the
heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards.
The sending of Valentines was a fashion in nineteenth-century Great
Britain, and, in 1847, Esther Howland developed a successful business
in her Worcester, Massachusetts home with hand-made Valentine cards
based on British models. The popularity of Valentine cards in
19th-century America was a harbinger of the future commercialization of
holidays in the United States.
The U.S. Greeting Card Association
estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year
worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of
the year, behind Christmas. The association estimates that, in the US, men spend in average twice as much money as women.
Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine.
Until 1969, the Catholic Church formally recognized eleven Valentine's
Days. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae) and Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae). Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who suffered martyrdom about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome. and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.
Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197 and is said to have been killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian.
He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than
Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in
Terni (Basilica di San Valentino).
The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.
No romantic elements are present in the original early medieval
biographies of either of these martyrs. By the time a Saint Valentine
became linked to romance in the fourteenth century, distinctions
between Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni were utterly lost.
In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints,
the feastday of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the
General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even
national) calendars for the following reason: "Though the memorial of
Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since,
apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he
was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14." The feast day is still celebrated in Balzan (Malta) where relics of the saint are claimed to be found, and also throughout the world by Traditionalist Catholics who follow the older, pre-Vatican II calendar.
The Early Medieval acta of either Saint Valentine were excerpted by Bede and briefly expounded in Legenda Aurea. According to that version, St Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II
in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion
with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order
to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to
Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his
execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing the
blind daughter of his jailer.
Legenda Aurea still providing no connections whatsoever with
sentimental love, appropriate lore has been embroidered in modern times
to portray Valentine as a priest who refused an unattested law
attributed to Roman Emperor Claudius II,
allegedly ordering that young men remain single. The Emperor supposedly
did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for
good soldiers. The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed
marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this,
he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail. In an embellishment to The Golden Legend,
on the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he wrote the first
"valentine" himself, addressed to a young girl variously identified as
his beloved, as the jailer's daughter whom he had befriended and healed, or both. It was a note that read "From your Valentine."