02/13/2014 10:52 am ET Updated Apr 15, 2014

Historical Origins of Valentine's Day

So you're in love? Or think you are? And wonder why? As it happens, the origins of Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 are as mysterious and unpredictable as love itself.

No one knows for certain how that date became linked to romantic love. The Catholic Encyclopedia indicates at least three early Christian saints were called Valentine. One was a Roman priest; the second, a bishop in Terni; and a third died in Africa. All three were supposedly martyred on Feb. 14th.

More verifiable was Pope Gelasius, who, in 496 A.D.named Feb. 14 the feast day for Saint Valentine. That pope did so to honor a priest who lived in Rome in 270 AD during the reign of the pagan Roman emperor, Claudius II.

The years preceding Claudius' ascendancy were chaotic. Rivaling leaders and poor management of the sprawling Roman empire had resulted in civil strife. Simultaneously, invading barbarian tribes had eroded the empire's vast boundaries which extended from Scotland through Europe to North Africa.

Claudius vowed to restore peace to the empire through strict training of his soldiers. Believing romantic unions softened men and weakened their commitment to battle, he forbid love between soldiers and women and issued an edict forbidding marriage.

Unable to protest, soldiers and their sweethearts sought help from a benevolent priest with miraculous healing powers named Valentine. Legend has it that the cleric secretly marry those couples.

Claudius hated Christianity and once he discovered Valentine's performance of secret marriages, had the priest arrested. While awaiting his sentence, Valentine's jailor Asterius introduced him to his blind daughter, Julia.. Valentine soon restored Julia's sight and the two became close friends.

During a fiery interview with Claudius, Valentine reiterated his disapproval of the marriage ban, denied belief in the Roman gods and even attempted to convert the emperor to Christianity. Outraged Claudius ordered Valentine's execution on Feb. 14. When Julia learned about Valentine's sentence, she became distraught. Legend has it that before his death, Valentine asked for a pen and paper and left the girl a message "from your Valentine."

By the 14th century, writers like Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle linked Valentine's Day to the cult of chivalric love. Despite the Church's efforts to have followers venerate Feb. 14th as the saint's feast day, it became widely associated with romantic love.

Ever since then, lovers have continued to exchange gifts and sentimental cards on Feb. 14th which are often addressed "from Your Valentine."

"Won't you be mine?" That passionate plea has continued to thrill lovers over the centuries.