Who was St Valentine?

22 January 2016

Mystery surrounds the true origins of St Valentine's Day but it is commonly agreed that Valentine was a Christian priest in third century Rome when this new religion was still considered a threat to the Roman empire. 

The most popular story tells that he was imprisoned for his beliefs, and for sheltering other Christians, and fell in love with his jailor's daughter. Before his execution he allegedly wrote her a letter signed 'from your Valentine', an expression seen today in the millions of cards sent around the world.

Much later the church placed St Valentine's Day in February in an attempt to reduce the impact of a pagan fertility festival known as Lupercalia which took place around the same time of year. It wasn't until the fifth century that Pope Gelasius declared February 14th to be St Valentine's Day and over the coming centuries the date became more and more associated with romance.

The oldest known surviving Valentine is thought to be a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection in the British Library. Sadly, most people today rely on a pre-printed card rather than composing their own words... perhaps you will be inspired to have a go!