In Roman mythology Juno was the goddess of women and marriage [Read: 10 Biggest Secrets to a Happy Married Life]. She was also the queen of Roman gods. 14 February was the day in ancient Rome celebrated in the honor of goddess Juno. The name of the feast was Lupercalia and its celebration was considered to be a sign of fertility, prosperity and happiness. The next day of Lupercalia, the men and women would get together in a temple. The women would write a letter for her potential lover selecting someone as of her choice.
At times there would be no specific man and used to be named at random. All such letters were placed in an urn that was well decorated. The men would come and pick one letter from the urn and for the next one year would pursue the woman who wrote that letter. Once both found each hey would get married. This practice continued till 18th century, thereafter people started realizing that they should select their life partners by choice and not through a game of chance.
Another story tells us that St. Valentine was a priest in Rome in 3rd century AD when Emperor Claudius II was the ruler. According to the royal order of the day the military conscription was mandatory for every young male citizen. The Emperor was of the view that single men were more suited for the army and would perform better than the married ones.
St. Valentine violated the royal order and performed secret marriages. When the ‘crime’ of St. Valentine’ was revealed, he was put in the prison. One young daughter of the jailer, who was blind, used to look after the priest. St. Valentine prayed for her and she got her eye sight back. On 14 February 270 AD, St. Valentine was executed. Before his execution the priest sent a letter to the girl inscribing, “From your Valentine”. This phrase got universal fame and is still widely used.
According to some traditions of the early Christians, there were actually three saints with the name Valentine who were martyred on the same day 14 February. The Catholic Church recognized the same and observed the day as such. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius declared 14 February as a Church holiday. In 1969 Pope Paul VI took it off the Church calendar.
In 1537 King Henry VIII of England declared 14 February as a public holiday as he was famous for disposing his wives. The cards on this occasion carried a religious tinge that remained in vogue for another about 150 years. Thereafter the Valentine Day cards started appearing in non-religious colors, which is the practice of the day now.