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Tracing the legend of St. Valentine goes back to ancient Rome

Story by Tom Kelly

Tuesday, 14th February, 2012 11:30am

EVERY February 14, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate St. Valentines Day?

The first legend, and perhaps the best known, began in Rome, when the Emperor, Claudius II, was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. 'Claudius the Cruel', as he was called, was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues.

He believed the reason was that Roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. So, he cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.

The good St. Valentine, who was a priest in Rome in the year 269 A.D., together with his friend St. Marius, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

When Valentine's actions were discovered, he was sentenced to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off.

But while in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl, who may have been his jailor's daughter, who visited him during his confinement.

Before his death on February 14, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed

'From your Valentine'.

In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honour St. Valentine.

Another legend says Valentine's Day started in ancient Rome on February 14, a holiday to honour Juno, the queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the goddess of women and marriage. Then, the following day, February 15, began the Feast of Lupercalia.

In those days, the lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, on the eve of the festival of Lupercalia, the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars.

Each young man would draw a girl's name from the jar and would then be partners for the duration of the festival with the girl whom he chose. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry.

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