There are various popular and interesting legends of St Valentine's Day. Some legends trace the origin of Valentine's Day to pagan times while others link it one or more Saints of early Christian Church. Yet another point of view on the origin of Valentine's Day links it to the beginning of birds mating season. Popularity of the festival is perhaps due to the combined effect of all these legends along with the notion that spring is the time for love.
Several historians trace the origin of Valentine's Day to pagan times in ancient Roman Empire. In those times, people organized a holiday on February 14 to honor Juno - the mythological Queen of Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also regarded Juno as the Goddess of Women and Marriage. From the following day - February 15 started the Fertility Festival called the Feast of Lupercalia. This feast was organized to protect humans from wolves and to honor the Roman Gods of Agriculture - Lupercus and Faunus besides the founders of Rome - Romulus and Remus. During the Feast of Lupecalia, members of Lupercali - an order of the Roman priest used to gather in a sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. Following the tradition, the priest would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. Boys would slice the goats hide into strips, dipped them in sacrificial blood and move about the streets gently slapping women and fields with the animal hide. Womenfolk gladly received a slap, as they believed that the practice would make them more fertile. Later, during the Feast of Lupecalia, all the young women in the city would place a chit of their name in a big urn. Bachelors in the city would each then take a chit out of the urn and became paired for the girl whose name was on the chit for the rest of the year. Quite often, the paired couple would fall in love and marry.
Later, when Christianity spread through Rome, the practice of finding mate through ‘lottery' was deemed un-Christian and outlawed. Around 498 AD, Pope Gelasius is said to have declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day. Some writers link Valentine's Day with Feast of Lupercalia because of similar date and connection with fertility.
Early Christian Church indicates the presence of at least two saints names Valentine. Some scholars however, says that there were as many as seven saints credited with the name of Saint Valentine or Valentinus all of whom lived in the Third Century and apparently died on the same day. Given here are some of the most popular of all legends of Saint Valentine:
Saint Valentine of Rome - I
According to one very popular legend, Valentine was a priest in Rome who lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Under his regime, Claudius is said to have engaged Rome into several bloody battles. To strengthen his army, the Emperor continuously needed to recruit soldiers. However, Claudius found that not many soldiers were keen to join the army because of attachment with their wives and families. In order to sever the bond of attachment, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine - a romantic at heart priest, defied this callous decree of Claudius by secretly arranging marriages of young men and women. When Valentine's defiance was discovered by the Emperor, he was brutally beaten up and put to death on February 14, about 270 AD.
For his martyrdom and dedication for the cause Valentine was name a Saint after his death. By Middle Ages, Saint Valentine became popular as the patron saint of love and lovers in England and France to the extent that Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as Valentine's Day on 498 AD and put an end to pagan celebrations. Thus, Saint Valentine's martyrdom day became an occasion to celebrate love.
Saint Valentine of Rome - II
Another famous legend on Saint Valentine states Valentine was an early Christian in Rome who was very popular amongst children. But during the time when Valentine lived, Roman regime was not in favour of Christianity and it even persecuted Christians to make Rome free of the followers of Christianity. In spite of this strict law, Valentine continued to practice his faith and refused to worship Roman Gods. This enraged Emperor Claudius II and he put Valentine into prison.
Valentine is said to have spent a year in rigorous imprisonment during which he was missed a lot by children. They began to toss loving notes and flowers between the bars of his cell window. To an extent, this legend may explain the tradition of exchanging notes and flowers on Valentine's Day.
Some scholars believe that during his stay in prison Valentine made friends with jailer's blind daughter who at times brought to him notes and flowers from children. Whenever, possible Valentine also replied to the notes. Days before his execution, Valentine prayed for the jailer's daughter and she regained her sight. Before his death, Valentine is also said to have written a farewell note for the jailer's daughter and signed it "From Your Valentine”. This expression is popular even till date.
Some scholars believe that Valentine was killed because he tried to help Christians escape from the Roman prison as they were being tortured and beaten. Yet another set of scholars say Emperor Claudius II was impressed by Valentine's kindness and good behavior. He even stated that Valentine could be freed if he agreed to worship Roman Gods. Valentine not just refused he even tried to convert Emperor to Christianity. This made Claudius very angry and he ordered his execution. Valentine was beheaded on February 14.
During the Middle Ages, people in England and France held a popular belief that birds started to look for a mate from February 14. This popular notion further strengthened the idea that Valentine's Day festival that falls in the middle of February should be celebrated as the day of love and romance. The concept soon gained ground amongst the lovers and they began to celebrate the day by exchanging love notes and simple gifts like flower.