Today is Valentine’s Day! (Feb 14)!

Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.

It is the traditional day on which lovers express their love for each other by sending Valentine’s cards, presenting flowers, or offering confectionery. The holiday is named after two among the numerous Early Christian martyrs named Valentine. The day became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. Until 1969, the Catholic Church formally recognized eleven Valentine’s Days. The Valentines honored on February 14 are:

  • Valentine of Rome (Valentinus presb. m. Romae): a priest in Rome who suffered martyrdom about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome.[1] and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.
  • Valentine of Terni (Valentinus ep. Interamnensis m. Romae): He became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197 and is said to have been killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni (Basilica di San Valentino).

The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of 14 February. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.

Some sources say the Valentine linked to romance is Valentine of Rome, others say Valentine of Terni. Some scholars (such as the Bollandists) have concluded that the two were originally the same person. In any case, no romantic elements are present in the original Early Medieval biographies of either of these martyrs.

An overview of attested traditions relevant to the holiday is presented below, with the legends about Valentine himself discussed in the end.

The evolving legend

The Early Medieval acta of either Saint Valentine were excerpted by Bede and briefly expounded in Legenda Aurea, According to that version, St Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer.

Legenda Aurea still providing no connections whatsoever with sentimental love, appropriate lore has been embroidered in modern times to portray Valentine as a priest who refused an unattested law attributed to Roman Emperor Claudius II, allegedly ordering that young men remain single. The Emperor supposedly did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail. In an embellishment to The Golden Legend, on the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he wrote the first “valentine” himself, addressed to a young girl variously identified as his beloved, as the jailer’s daughter whom he had befriended and healed, or both. It was a note that read “From your Valentine.”

In another apparently modern embellishment, while Valentine was imprisoned, people would leave him little notes, folded up and hidden in cracks in the rocks around his cell. He would find them and offer prayers for them.

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1 Comment

  1. […] I have a previous post about this. Please click here to read it. […]


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