With the designated "Day of Love" approaching, the origins of this relatively new holiday appear more ambiguous than most. Truth be told, Saint Valentine's Day, or just Valentine's Day, does not have a significant historical basis, but rather has emerged in the recent epoch, to fill a necessary void.
Many concepts have been associated with Valentine's Day over the previous centuries, including romantic love, hearts, Cupid with his bow and arrow, as well as the exchange of greeting cards and gifts. None of these traditions, however, are very relevant to the original Saint Valentine. In fact, it is difficult for even the most capable scholar to determine which St. Valentine we celebrate.
There have been various martyrs of Christianity with the name Valentine, three of which are honored on February 14th. The first is Valentine of Rome, a Roman Priest who was martyred in the late 3rd Century A.D., and buried in Dublin, Ireland. The second is Valentine of Terni, who lived around the same time period. It was this Valentine who was executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II for attempting to convert the Emperor to Christianity, as well as for breaking one of Claudius II laws. There is very little known about the third martyred Valentine, other than that he was martyred and buried in Africa, with many companions.
As you can see, we tread into uncertain territory as we have three Saint Valentines, none of whose lives symbolize love and romanticism. However, pertaining to the second Valentine, Valentine of Terni, one account was found to prove otherwise. As noted above, the Roman Pagan Emperor Claudius II made it law for young men in the army not to wed, with the reasoning that a married man made a worse soldier than a bachelor. Secretly, Valentine of Terni would hold weddings for these young soldiers and their wives-to-be. In 500 A.D., Pope Gelasius I established Saint Valentine's Day as a holiday (despite its repeal in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.) Then in the 14th Century, renowned author Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about King Richard II's engagement to Anne of Bohemia in his Parlement of Foule's:
"For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."
From the publishing of Chaucer's work forward, Saint Valentine's day became associated with love between two individuals. The three martyred Valentine's essentially fused as one, for clarity's sake, and a new holiday emerged. Though Valentine's Day is primarily celebrated in Western and Christian Culture, there are cultures in the Middle East and Eastern Asia that do recognize February 14th as a designated "Day of Love." Also, due to its lack of tradition and historical significance, this holiday has been criticized as a commercially-created day, for companies to increase their sales, etc., etc. I say, however, that despite our uncertainty of each of the Saint Valentine's roles in history, the corporate commercialism that has been pressed upon consumers during the approach of Valentine's Day, and the notion that every day should be a "Day of Love", it is nice to have a holiday dedicated to our hearts and the relationships that we have formed with others. We wish you all the best on this year's Valentine's Day!