Loved by some, hated by others, Valentine's Day is widely regarded as the ultimate day of cheesy, unapologetic romance.

While some may be vaguely aware that the occasion is named after a priest named Saint Valentine, they may not be familiar with the full history of Valentine's Day, which is decidedly less romantic than one might expect.

Valentine of Terni was a third-century priest who ministered to Christians in ancient Rome. There are several accounts detailing the events that led him to become a martyr and later to be named a saint by the Catholic Church.

One of the most accepted accounts suggests that Valentine defied Emperor Claudius II of Rome. The emperor banned young people from marrying, as he thought they would be more useful on the battlefield than at home.

Some accounts detail Valentine's total defiance of this law, seeing him marry young couples in clandestine ceremonies. This was considered a serious offense in the eyes of the emperor and, as a consequence, the priest was beheaded on 14 February.

Despite the emperor's wrath, the Catholic Church praised Valentine for uniting couples who observed the Christian faith. Thus, Valentine was formally recognized by the church as a saint after his death. Since then, Saint Valentine has become associated with courtly love and the romantic traditions of Valentine's Day.

Along with this account, some believe that the story of Valentine's Day may also be rooted in a pre-ancient tradition. Roman festival called Lupercalia. The festival, celebrated every year by the Romans on February 15, celebrated fertility. Participants worked to purify the city of evil spirits in order to maximize fertility and bring prosperity to their villages.

Luperci by J. Grasset Saint Sauveur Ancient Rome, Bergamo 1825

(Rex Resources)

The pagan festival was also known as “dies februatus”, which means “day of purification”, hence the name of the month of February.

Part of the process saw the priests of the god Lupercus – the Luperci – sacrifice goats and a dog and then smear their foreheads with the animals' blood.

These men then ran naked across the Palatine Hill, striking any woman who came near them with the skins of the animals they had sacrificed. Priests believed that beating women with animal skins would ensure that they would remain fertile.

Although the concept of Lupercalia may differ greatly from our modern understanding of Valentine's Day, the two observances are closely linked.

Lupercalia celebrations came to an end around the 5th century, after objections were made to the festival by Pope Gelasius I.

The Pope condemned the practices of the pagan festival, describing those who participated in it as “vile and common, abject and of the lowest order”.

The Valentine's Day holiday on February 14th was officially declared by the pope in 496 AD, leading some to believe that he had effectively replaced Lupercalia with the holiday honoring Saint Valentine.

The first evidence that Valentine's Day had romantic connotations emerged in the 14th century, through the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer. “That was on Valentine's Day, when every bird comes to choose its mate”, said the English poet he wrote to honor the engagement of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia.

William Shakespeare also made reference to Valentine's Day in his work, having Ophelia talk about the day in his 17th century play Village.

Valentine's Day as we know it today began to take shape in the 19th and early 20th centuries, thanks in part to the boom of the industrial revolution.

In 1913, Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri, began mass production Valentine's Day cards, kicking off the commercial holiday that February 14th has become.

A decade later, chocolatier Russell Stover had the innovative idea to sell chocolates in heart-shaped boxes, wrapped in satin and black lace.

In 2018, website to save money Finder reported that 22 million Brits were preparing to spend money on their significant others on Valentine's Day.

The average spend for an individual taking part in the love-filled celebrations was £28.45, while 16 per cent of the population said they planned to celebrate the day without spending a penny.

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