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– Billy Hallowell

For most Americans, Valentine’s Day is a time for chocolates, roses, kisses, and other romantic sentiments. But the holiday’s history is a whole lot gruffer than the lighthearted and traditional practices we celebrate every Feb. 14. In fact, the background is both murky and violent, with a history that is practically impossible to nail down. Of particular confusion is St. Valentine’s identity, as the holiday’s central figure is a bit of an anomaly.

Let’s start with the fact that there was more than one St. Valentine. Catholic tradition honors three individuals who are named either Valentine or Valentinus. These men, all martyrs, purportedly died in shows of  bravery — or while defending love (or a mixture of the two). One of the men was a priest in Rome, another was a bishop of Interamna (today this is Terni, Italy) and the third is a martyr who lived in the Roman province of Africa. Each of the men is connected in Catholic tradition to the Feb. 14 date.

According to History.com, one legend claims that Valentine was a priest during the third century. At the time, Emperor Claudius II, a Roman leader, decided to outlaw marriage for young men, alleging that single males made for more viable soldiers. The leader believed that he was having a hard time getting men to join the ranks, because they were tied down to their wives and children — so his solution was to simply do away with matrimonial bliss.

Rather than complying with this wedding ban, Valentine allegedly continued to marry young people in secret. According to legend, Claudius found out and Valentine was subsequently put to death; he was purportedly beheaded on Feb. 14 278 A.D.

 But that’s only one of the tales. Click here for more of the article and video.