The Legend of St. Valentine

Not much is known about the true origins of Valentines Day or who the real St. Valentine was. The Catholic Encyclopedia indicates that the saint whose feast was celebrated on the day now known as St. Valentine’s Day was possibly one of three martyred men named Valentinus who lived in the late third century, during the reign of Emperor Claudius II (who died in 270):
• a priest in Rome
• a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni)
• a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

Various dates are suggested for their martyrdoms: 269, 270 or 273.
The birth date and birthplaces for the three St. Valentines are unknown. There is no mention of the name Valentine in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, which was compiled ca. 354. However, according to legend, St. Valentine was a Roman priest in the days of Claudius II who was beheaded on February 14, around 269 A.D. He was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity and perhaps even for marrying couples during a time when Claudius had banned marriages and engagements. Legend says that St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend during his imprisonment, and signed it “From Your Valentine.”

The feast of St. Valentine was first decreed in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who listed St. Valentine among those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” During the time of Catholic historian William of Malmesbury (1090 – 1143), the old Flaminian Gate of Rome was called the Gate of St. Valentine

In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour Juno. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia where Roman boys and girls were paired off for the festival. The church in Rome frequently endeavoured to do away with the pagan customs by substituting their own feasts and holy days. The feast of Saint Valentine was traditionally celebrated on February 14 by the Roman Catholic Church until the revised calendar of 1969.

The first documented association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Parliament of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer:
“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Whatever the origins for the custom of expressing love on February 14, you can never have too many opportunities to tell your loved ones that you love them. It doesn’t require a holiday, feast, card or candy – just tell someone special that you love them today.

From our archines, Feb. 7, 2012

Art by Kathryn Darden

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