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Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve: History of Valentine by Kathryn Frazier

Americans exchange 180 million Valentine’s Day cards annually. And that number doesn’t include the boxed children’s cards exchanged in classrooms. How did this all start? Who was Saint Valentine, anyway? And why do we send cards on his day?

Saint Valentine (Valentinus) lived in Rome in the third century CE under the rule of emperor Claudius II, when Christianity was expressly forbidden.

Valentine was a Christian priest, and a physician who treated people with prayer and with medicines. He often waived payment or took whatever the person could afford. By some reports, he suffered from epilepsy, and had a special consideration for those living with that challenge. Some say that he treated the son of a Roman orator for a seizure.

Because Claudius II believed unattached men made better soldiers, he declared marriages illegal. He encouraged temporary partners. Once a year, the Romans held a festival honoring Juno, one of their twelve gods. During the festival, young men drew names, lottery style, to determine their partners for the coming year.

To help cement the temporary coupling, the man wore the woman’s name on his sleeve throughout the festival. This is where we get the expression, “Wearing your heart on your sleeve.”

Against Roman law, and in defiance of the Pope, Valentine secretly married couples in Christian ceremonies. When caught, he was arrested. During his time in prison, fellow Christians slipped Valentine notes of encouragement. The jailer’s blind daughter, Julia, visited him often. Valentine prayed for her, and God restored the girl’s sight.

Valentine was held until the day of the lottery. On that day, February 14, he was made a public example, beaten with clubs, then beheaded.

The last thing he wrote, on the eve of his execution, was a note to Julia. He signed it, “From Your Valentine”.

Copyright 2011, Kathryn A. Frazier.
Kathryn lives with her husband and children in Tampa, Florida. It’s hot there. And swampy. With gators. She’s really brave.