Saint Valentine has nothing to do with Saint Valentine’s Day. Well, they have one thing in common, namely the date of February 14th. As far back as the year 469 A.D. Pope Gelasius designated February 14 as the day to commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine. The Pope cautiously added that Valentine is one of those whose name is reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.
The Catholic Encyclopedia lists three Saint Valentines, one a priest martyr in Rome, one a bishop martyr in Terni, Italy, and one who was martyred in Africa. The evidence for the first two is a tomb in the catacombs, and a small church of Saint Valentine near the Porta del Popolo in Rome. Both were reputedly martyred in 269 A.D., and they could well be two versions of the same person. There is no evidence for the African martyr except the name.
The lack of evidence has undermined the standing of Saint Valentine in the Church. The revision of the Roman Missal in 1969 saw the omission of Saint Valentine for lack of historical evidence. He is still named in the list of saints, but not included among those for public veneration. Effectively he has been benched for the foreseeable future.
The link between Saint Valentine and the romantic exchanges on his feast day is attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet of the 13th century. Apparently Chaucer was asked to write a poem to honor the engagement of an English prince with a European princess. In the poem he wrote that the engagement would take place on Saint Valentine’s Day, “when every fowl comes to choose a mate”.
So the link between the saint and romantic exchanges has nothing to do with anything the saint said or did, but rather with the date of his martyrdom. Halfway through the second month of the year was the time the birds began to mate for the new season. According to Chaucer, that was an appropriate time for their human masters to do the same.
Gradually over the years the custom developed in England of young people exchanging hand-made cards on Saint Valentine’s Day. The custom spread to America, and by mid 19th century it was widely popular. Mass production has made the card exchange and gift-giving a huge commercial success.
Despite the lack of historical facts about Saint Valentine, some legends have grown up to link him with the popular Valentine Day practice. There is a story that when he was in prison awaiting execution, he met his jailer’s blind daughter. He blessed the girl and restored her sight. They became friends. On the eve of his execution for his Faith he left her a farewell note, and signed it simply, “From your Valentine”.