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The history of Valentine's Day stands obscure and further clouded by numerous fanciful legends. The day finds its root in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. Pope Gelasius I refashioned this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day.


Now, which St. Valentine this early pope intended to honor remains quite a curious mystery: according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were at least three early Christian saints by that name. One was a priest in Rome, another a bishop in Terni, and of a third St. Valentine about whom nothing is known except that he had died in Africa. Quite interestingly, all the three Valentines were said to have been martyred on Feb. 14.


Scholars believe that the St. Valentine of the holiday was a priest who invited the distaste of Roman emperor Claudius II around 270. At this stage, the factual ends and the mythic started beginning. According to one legend, Claudius II had forbidden marriage for young men, claiming that bachelors made better soldiers. Despite the verdict, Valentine continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies but was eventually apprehended by the Romans and was sentenced to death. Another legend contains that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the daughter of his jailer. Before his execution, he allegedly sent her a letter signed "from your Valentine." Probably the most convincing story surrounding St. Valentine which is not focused on any Eros (passionate love) but on agape (Christian love): he was crucified for refusing to give up his religion.


In the year 1969, the Catholic Church improvised its liturgical calendar, eradicating the feast days of saints whose historical origins were doubtful. St. Valentine was one of the casualties.

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