Traditionally, mid-February was a Roman time to meet and court prospective mates. The Lupercian lottery (under penalty of mortal sin), Roman young men did institute the custom of offering women they admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. The cards acquired St. Valentine’s name.
As Christianity spread, so did the Valentine’s Day card. The earliest extant card was sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. It is now in the British Museum.
In the sixteenth century, St. Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva, attempted to expunge the custom of cards and reinstate the lottery of saints’ names. He felt that Christians had become wayward and needed models to emulate. However, this lottery was less successful and shorter-lived than Pope Gelasius’s. And rather than disappearing, cards proliferated and became more decorative.
Cupid, the naked cherub armed with arrows dipped in love potion, beame a popular valentine image. He was associated with the holiday because in Roman mythology he is the son of Venus, goddess of love and beauty.