The month of February has long been associated with love. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did this ancient tradition come to be associated with him?

According to one legend, Valentine was a Roman priest in the third century. Emperor Claudius II forbade young men from marrying, deeming single men as better soldiers than those with wives and kids. Recognizing the injustice of the law, Valentine resisted Claudius and continued to conduct marriages of young lovers in secret. When Claudius learned of Valentine’s deeds, he ordered his execution. Other accounts indicate that Valentine may have been slain for attempting to help Christians in fleeing Roman jails, where they were frequently oppressed. In one version, after falling in love with a young girl—possibly his jailer’s daughter—who visited him during his captivity, an imprisoned Valentine delivered the first “valentine” greeting himself. It’s believed he wrote her a letter inscribed “From your Valentine” before his death, an idiom that is still used today. By the Middle Ages, presumably due to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Although the legends of Valentine are a bit hazy, they all underline his glamour as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, loving person. Valentine’s Day is originally intended to be romantic, but it has developed into expressions of familial and platonic love.