In the early writings about martyrs, three different Saint Valentines are mentioned, all sharing February 14th as their feast days. Unfortunately, the historical record is sparse.
The first Saint Valentine was a priest and physician in Rome. He, along with Saint Marius and his family, comforted the martyrs during the persecution of Emperor Claudius II, the Goth. Eventually, Saint Valentine was also arrested, condemned to death for his faith, beaten with clubs, and finally beheaded on February 14th, 270 (A.D.). He was buried on the Flaminian Way.
Later, Pope Julius I (333-356) built a Basilica at the site which preserved Saint Valentine's tomb. Archeological digs in the 1500s and 1800s have found evidence of the tomb of Saint Valentine; however, in the 13th century, his relics were transferred to the Church of Saint Praxedes near the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where they remain today.
Also, a small church was built near the Flaminian Gate of Rome which is now known as the Porta del Popolo but was called in the 12th century "The Gate of Saint Valentine," as noted by the early British historian William Somerset (also known as William of Malmesbury), who ranks after Saint Bede in authority.
The second Saint Valentine was the Bishop of Interamna (now Terni, located about 60 miles from Rome). Under the orders of Prefect Placidus, he, too, was arrested, scourged and decapitated, again suffering persecution during the time of Emperor Claudius II.
The third Saint Valentine suffered martyrdom in Africa with several companions; however, nothing further is known about this saint.
In all, these men, each named Saint Valentine, showed heroic love for the Lord and His Church.
The popular customs of showing love and affection on Saint Valentine's Day is almost a coincidence with the feast day of the saint. During the Medieval Age, a common belief in England and France was that birds began to pair on February 14th, "half-way through the second month of the year." Chaucer wrote in his "Parliament of Foules" (in Old English): "For this was on Seynt Valentyne's day, when every foul cometh ther to choose his mate." For this reason, the day was dedicated to "lovers" and prompted the sending of letters, gifts or other signs of affection.
While it seems that the exchange of "valentines" is more the result of secular custom rather than the memory of Saint Valentine, and that the celebration has been further paganized with cupids and the like, there is a Christian message that should be remembered. The love of our Lord, depicted beautifully in the image of His most Sacred Heart, is a sacrificial, selfless, and unconditional love. Such is the love that each Christian is called to express in his own life, for God and neighbor. Clearly, Saint Valentine, no matter which one showed such a love, bearing witness to the faith in his dedication as a priest and in the offering of his own life in martyrdom.
On this Valentine's day, looking to the example of this great saint, each person should offer again his love to the Lord, for only by doing so can he properly love those who are entrusted to his care and any other neighbor. Each person should again pledge his love to those loved ones, praying for their intentions, promising fidelity to them, and thanking them for their love in return. Never forget Jesus said, "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:12-13). Saint Valentine fulfilled this command and may we do the same.