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Paganism And Persecution: The Dark History Of Valentine's Day

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — There may be love in the air this Valentine's Day, but the holiday's history is far darker than any dozen red roses.

Valentine's Day is traditionally celebrated on Feb. 14, which is the day Pope Gelasius declared in 498 A.D. to honor the martyr Valentinus and end a pagan celebration.

Valentinus was executed for not renouncing his Christian beliefs in the face of persecution by Roman officials.

Trial of St. Valentine
Circa 260 AD, this painting by Bart Zeitblom depicts the trial of St. Valentine, known patron saint of lovers, was also a priest near Rome at a time when the Roman Emperor was imprisoning Christians for not worshipping the Roman gods. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

While jailed, he allegedly restored the sight of his jailer's blind daughter. The night before his execution, he wrote a farewell note to the girl, which he signed, "From your Valentine."

He was executed on Feb. 14, 269.

In fifth century Rome, people honorσd Juno, the pagan goddess of love and marriage on Feb. 14. During the celebration, men would draw women's names and aggressively court them for marriage.

The tradition of sending heart-shaped valentines is said to have begun in England in the 1840s, later spreading to the United States.

Valentine's Day has developed a backlash known as antivalentinism, the belief the day has become commercialized and lost its significance of lovers expressing love for each other.

It has also been derided as a "Hallmark Holiday" that exists primarily for commercial purposes.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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