Information

Who Was the Real St. Valentine?


On February 14, when we share chocolates, special dinners, or doily cards with our loved ones, we do it in the name of Saint Valentine. But who was this saint of romance?

Search the internet, and you can find plenty of stories about him—or them. One Saint Valentine was supposedly a Roman priest who performed secret weddings against the wishes of the authorities in the third century. Imprisoned in the home of a noble, he healed his captor’s blind daughter, causing the whole household to convert to Christianity and sealing his fate. Before being tortured and decapitated on February 14, he sent the girl a note signed “Your Valentine.”

READ MORE: Victorian-Era 'Vinegar' Valentines Could Be Mean and Hostile

Some accounts say another saint named Valentine during the same period was the Bishop of Terni, also credited with secret weddings and martyrdom via beheading on February 14.

Unfortunately for anyone hoping for a tidy, romantic backstory to the holiday, scholars who have studied its origins say there’s very little basis for these accounts. In fact, Valentine’s Day only became associated with love in the late Middle Ages, thanks to the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

“The two stories that everybody talks about, the bishop and the priest, they’re so similar that it makes me suspicious,” says Bruce Forbes, a professor of religious studies at Morningside College in Iowa.

Multiple Martyred Saint Valentines

Valentine was a popular name in ancient Rome, and there are at least 50 stories of different saints by that name. But Forbes said the earliest surviving accounts of the two February 14 Valentines, written starting in the 500s, have a whole lot in common. Both were said to have healed a child while imprisoned, leading to a household-wide religious conversion, and they were executed on the same day of the year and buried along the same highway.

The historical evidence is so sketchy that it’s not clear whether the story started with one saint who then became two or if biographers of one man borrowed details from the other—or if either ever existed at all.

READ MORE: 6 Facts About St. Valentine

Perhaps more disappointing for the romantics among us, the early accounts of the two Valentines are typical martyrdom stories, stressing the saints’ miracles and gruesome deaths but containing not a word about romance.

“They’re both mythical to begin with, and the connection with love is even more mythical,” says Henry Kelly, a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature and history at UCLA.

Tracing Valentine's Day to Lupercalia

Saint Valentine’s Day has also been associated with a Christian effort to replace the older holiday of Lupercalia, which Romans celebrated on February 15. Some modern stories paint Lupercalia as a particularly sexy holiday, when women wrote their names on clay tablets which men then drew from a jar, pairing up random couples.

But, again, early accounts don’t support this. The closest parallel between Lupercalia and modern Valentine’s Day traditions seems to be that the Roman festival involved two nearly naked young men slapping everyone around them with pieces of goat skin. According to the ancient writer Plutarch, some young married women believed that being hit with the skins promoted conception and easy childbirth.

READ MORE: Lupercalia

Whatever minor romantic connotations might have been part of Lupercalia, they didn’t translate to the new Christian holiday.

“It just drives me crazy that the Roman story keeps circulating and circulating,” Forbes says. “The bottom line for me is until Chaucer we have no evidence of people doing something special and romantic on February 14.”

A Chaucer Poem Links Romance to Valentine

So how did Chaucer create the Valentine’s Day we know today? In the 1370s or 1380s, he wrote a poem called "Parliament of Fowls" that contains this line: “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.”

This was a moment in Europe when a particular set of romantic ideas took shape. Chaucer and other writers of his time celebrated romance between knights and noble ladies who could never marry—often because she was married already—creating tropes of yearning and tragic obstacles that still drive our romantic comedies today.

READ MORE: How Chivalry Died—Again and Again

By the 1400s, nobles inspired by Chaucer had begun writing poems known as “valentines” to their love interests. It was only at this point that stories began to appear linking Saint Valentine to romance.

But there’s one final twist in the myth of Saint Valentine. When Chaucer wrote of the day when every bird chooses a mate, Kelly argues that he was thinking not of February 14, but of May 3, a day celebrating one of the many other Saint Valentines. After all, England is still awfully cold in mid-February.

In Kelly’s view, Chaucer was looking for a way to celebrate King Richard II’s betrothal to Anne of Bohemia on that day and found that was the feast day for Valentine of Genoa. (He could have chosen the Feast of the Holy Cross, but that wouldn’t have sounded as nice in the poem.) But, since his contemporaries were more familiar with the Feb. 14 Saint Valentine’s Day, that was the date that became attached to the new holiday of romance.

In some ways, that may be a good thing.

“February is the worst month in cold climates,” Kelly says. “It’s great to have something to look forward to.”


Who was the real St. Valentine?

CHICAGO -- In most stores in the weeks leading up to St. Valentine’s day, you’re likely to find a plethora of pink and red cards, heart-shaped boxes of Russell Stover chocolates, and decor with nearly-naked chubby cherubs shooting hearts with bows and arrows.

It’s a far cry from the real Saint Valentine, an early Christian martyr who was bludgeoned and beheaded for his faith.

It’s also a far cry from an early Roman fertility ritual also celebrated on February 14, where men ran through the streets slapping women with the flesh of recently-sacrificed animals.

So how did a saint with such a gruesome death come to be associated with a holiday all about love, chocolates, and chubby cherubs?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, at least three different St. Valentines were recorded in early histories of martyrs under the date of Feb. 14. There are also accounts of an African St. Valentine, an early Christian who was persecuted along with his companions, but it seems that nothing else is known about this possible saint.

The St. Valentine celebrated today may have been two different people. One account holds that St. Valentine was a priest in Rome, and the other says that he was a bishop of Interamna (modern-day Terni). Both of these men were persecuted and ultimately killed for their faith, and buried somewhere along the Flaminian Way. It is also possible that they were the same person.

“He was either a Roman priest and physician who was martyred or he was the Bishop of Terni, Italy, who was also martyred in Rome, around 270 A.D. by Claudius the Goth,” who was the Roman emperor at the time, said Fr. Brendan Lupton, an associate professor of Church history at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.

St. Valentine -- whether priest or bishop -- was martyred on Feb. 14, now celebrated as Valentine’s Day. According to most accounts, he was beaten and then beheaded, after a time of imprisonment.

Local devotion to him spread, and Pope Julius I had a basilica dedicated to the saint built approximately two miles from Rome, over Valentine’s burial place. His skull is now kept in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome, and is decorated with flower crowns on his feast day.
Lupton said St. Valentine was one of the first Christian martyrs when the general persecution of Christians started in the Roman empire.
“More or less at that time, especially around the mid-third century, there was sort of a crisis in the Roman world known as the Third Century Crisis, where the Roman world was really in great peril,” Lupton told CNA. “There was a great amount of inflation. There were barbarian incursions at the time. There was lots of political instability. So that sort of unleashed the first general persecution of Christians. Prior to that time, there were local persecutions, but they were local and sporadic.”
Some Valentine’s Day traditions can be correlated with St. Valentine’s life, such as the exchanging of cards, Lupton said, or the celebration of romantic love.
“One (account) was that he had befriended the jailer's daughter, where he was being imprisoned, and when he died, he left her a note inscribed with ‘From your Valentine,’” Lupton said. Other accounts say that exchanging cards on Valentine’s Day recalls how St. Valentine would send notes to fellow Christians from prison.
“Another story is that Claudius the Goth actually had prohibited marriage amongst soldiers. He felt that if soldiers were married, they'd be less devoted to the army, especially at that time and they needed as many troops as possible. So there was a legend that Valentine actually had married soldiers in secret,” Lupton said.
Another way St. Valentine’s Day may have come to be celebrated as a day of love was because the bird mating season was thought to begin around mid-February, Lupton noted.
St. Valentine’s Day as it is known today was also instituted as a substitute for a cruder Roman holiday at the time, called Lupercalia, Lupton added.
Lupercalia was a popular feast celebrated in Rome, during which a group of pagan priests would sacrifice different types of animals and then run through the streets of Rome, slapping young women with the animal hides, a ritual that was thought to guarantee their health and fertility for the year.
“And so Pope Gelasius, he was around the fifth century. replaced the Lupercalia with Saint Valentine's Day,” Lupton said.
Parts of Valentine’s Day are entirely unrelated to the real St. Valentine. He did not, for instance, go around shooting people (or even hearts for that matter) with bows and arrows. That imagery was taken from the Roman god Cupid, who was also a god of love, Lupton said.


Commentary: The Real Life History of St. Valentine and His Unlikely Connection to Romance

On Feb. 14, sweethearts of all ages will exchange cards, flowers, candy, and more lavish gifts in the name of St. Valentine. But as a historian of Christianity, I can tell you that at the root of our modern holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love.

Valentine’s Day, in fact, originated as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So, how did we get from beheading to betrothing on Valentine’s Day?

Early origins of St. Valentine

Ancient sources reveal that there were several St. Valentines who died on February 14. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., at a time when persecution of Christians was common.

How do we know this? Because, an order of Belgian monks spent three centuries collecting evidence for the lives of saints from manuscript archives around the known world.

They were called Bollandists after Jean Bolland, a Jesuit scholar who began publishing the massive 68-folio volumes of “Acta Sanctorum,” or “Lives of the Saints,” beginning in 1643.

Since then, successive generations of monks continued the work until the last volume was published in 1940. The Brothers dug up every scrap of information about every saint on the liturgical calendar and printed the texts arranged according to the saint’s feast day.

St. Valentine blessing an epileptic. Wellcome Images, CC BY

The Valentine martyrs

The volume encompassing Feb. 14 contains the stories of a handful of “Valentini,” including the earliest three of whom died in the third century.

The earliest Valentinus is said to have died in Africa, along with 24 soldiers. Unfortunately, even the Bollandists could not find any more information about him. As the monks knew, sometimes all that the saints left behind was a name and day of death.

We know only a little more about the other two Valentines.

According to a late medieval legend reprinted in the “Acta,” which was accompanied by Bollandist critique about its historical value, a Roman priest named Valentinus was arrested during the reign of Emperor Gothicus and put into the custody of an aristocrat named Asterius.

As the story goes, Asterius made the mistake of letting the preacher talk. Father Valentinus went on and on about Christ leading pagans out of the shadow of darkness and into the light of truth and salvation. Asterius made a bargain with Valentinus: If the Christian could cure Asterius’s foster-daughter of blindness, he would convert. Valentinus put his hands over the girl’s eyes and chanted:

“Lord Jesus Christ, en-lighten your handmaid, because you are God, the True Light.”

Easy as that. The child could see, according to the medieval legend. Asterius and his whole family were baptized. Unfortunately, when Emperor Gothicus heard the news, he ordered them all to be executed. But Valentinus was the only one to be beheaded. A pious widow, though, made off with his body and had it buried at the site of his martyrdom on the Via Flaminia, the ancient highway stretching from Rome to present-day Rimini. Later, a chapel was built over the saint’s remains.

St. Valentine was not a romantic

St. Valentine kneeling. David Teniers III

The third third-century Valentinus was a bishop of Terni in the province of Umbria, Italy.

According to his equally dodgy legend, Terni’s bishop got into a situation like the other Valentinus by debating a potential convert and afterward healing his son. The rest of story is quite similar as well: He too, was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Gothicus and his body buried along the Via Flaminia.

It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, that there weren’t actually two decapitated Valentines, but that two different versions of one saint’s legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.

It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, that there weren’t actually two decapitated Valentines, but that two different versions of one saint’s legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.

Nonetheless, African, Roman or Umbrian, none of the Valentines seems to have been a romantic.

Indeed, medieval legends, repeated in modern media, had St. Valentine performing Christian marriage rituals or passing notes between Christian lovers jailed by Gothicus. Still other stories romantically involved him with the blind girl whom he allegedly healed. Yet none of these medieval tales had any basis in third-century history, as the Bollandists pointed out.

St. Valentine baptizing St. Lucilla. Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte)

In any case, historical veracity did not count for much with medieval Christians. What they cared about were stories of miracles and martyrdoms, and the physical remains or relics of the saint. To be sure, many different churches and monasteries around medieval Europe claimed to have bits of a St. Valentinus’ skull in their treasuries.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, for example, still displays a whole skull. According to the Bollandists, other churches across Europe also claim to own slivers and bits of one or the other St. Valentinus’ body: For example, San Anton Church in Madrid, Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Prague, Saint Mary’s Assumption in Chelmno, Poland, as well as churches in Malta, Birmingham, Glasgow, and on the Greek isle of Lesbos, among others.

For believers, relics of the martyrs signified the saints’ continuing their invisible presence among communities of pious Christians. In 11th-century Brittany, for instance, one bishop used what was purported to be Valentine’s head to halt fires, prevent epidemics, and cure all sorts of illnesses, including demonic possession.

As far as we know, though, the saint’s bones did nothing special for lovers.

Unlikely pagan origins

Many scholars have deconstructed Valentine and his day in books, articles and blog postings. Some suggest that the modern holiday is a Christian cover-up of the more ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia in mid-February.

Lupercalia originated as a ritual in a rural masculine cult involving the sacrifice of goats and dogs and evolved later into an urban carnival. During the festivities half-naked young men ran through the streets of Rome, streaking people with thongs cut from the skins of newly killed goats. Pregnant women thought it brought them healthy babies. In 496 A.D., however, Pope Gelasius supposedly denounced the rowdy festival.

Still, there is no evidence that the pope purposely replaced Lupercalia with the more sedate cult of the martyred St. Valentine or any other Christian celebration.

Chaucer and the love birds

The love connection probably appeared more than a thousand years after the martyrs’ death, when Geoffrey Chaucer, author of “The Canterbury Tales” decreed the February feast of St. Valentinus to the mating of birds. He wrote in his “Parlement of Foules”:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

It seems that, in Chaucer’s day, English birds paired off to produce eggs in February. Soon, nature-minded European nobility began sending love notes during bird-mating season. For example, the French Duke of Orléans, who spent some years as a prisoner in the Tower of London, wrote to his wife in February 1415 that he was “already sick of love” (by which he meant lovesick.) And he called her his “very gentle Valentine.”

English audiences embraced the idea of February mating. Shakespeare’s lovestruck Ophelia spoke of herself as Hamlet’s Valentine.

In the following centuries, Englishmen and women began using Feb. 14 as an excuse to pen verses to their love objects. Industrialization made it easier with mass-produced illustrated cards adorned with smarmy poetry. Then along came Cadbury, Hershey’s, and other chocolate manufacturers marketing sweets for one’s sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.

Today, shops everywhere in England and the U.S. decorate their windows with hearts and banners proclaiming the annual Day of Love. Merchants stock their shelves with candy, jewelry and Cupid-related trinkets begging “Be My Valentine.” For most lovers, this request does not require beheading.

Invisible Valentines

It seems that the erstwhile saint behind the holiday of love remains as elusive as love itself. Still, as St. Augustine, the great fifth-century theologian and philosopher argued in his treatise on “Faith in Invisible Things,” someone does not have to be standing before our eyes for us to love them.

And much like love itself, St. Valentine and his reputation as the patron saint of love are not matters of verifiable history, but of faith.

Lisa Patel is a Professor of History & Religion, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.


A New Meme

So, out of respect toward members of the Sacred Hermitage of St. John the Divine, who are asking people to stop using the meme involving their image, I present a new one that appears to not be modern and has a good chance of actually being of St. Valentine of Rome:

In the meantime, you can read about more objections to the History Channel in Aliens, the Apocalypse, and Truckers.


St. Valentine was not a romantic

The third third-century Valentinus was a bishop of Terni in the province of Umbria, Italy.

St. Valentine kneeling. David Teniers III ( Public Domain )

According to his equally dodgy legend, Terni’s bishop got into a situation like the other Valentinus by debating a potential convert and afterward healing his son. The rest of story is quite similar as well: He too, was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Gothicus and his body buried along the Via Flaminia.

It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, that there weren’t actually two decapitated Valentines, but that two different versions of one saint’s legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.

Nonetheless, African, Roman or Umbrian, none of the Valentines seems to have been a romantic.

Indeed, medieval legends, repeated in modern media, had St. Valentine performing Christian marriage rituals or passing notes between Christian lovers jailed by Gothicus. Still other stories romantically involved him with the blind girl whom he allegedly healed. Yet none of these medieval tales had any basis in third-century history, as the Bollandists pointed out.

St. Valentine baptizing St. Lucilla. Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte) ( Public Domain )

In any case, historical veracity did not count for much with medieval Christians. What they cared about were stories of miracles and martyrdoms, and the physical remains or relics of the saint. To be sure, many different churches and monasteries around medieval Europe claimed to have bits of a St. Valentinus’ skull in their treasuries.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, for example, still displays a whole skull. According to the Bollandists, other churches across Europe also claim to own slivers and bits of one or the other St. Valentinus’ body: For example, San Anton Church in Madrid, Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Prague, Saint Mary’s Assumption in Chelmno, Poland, as well as churches in Malta, Birmingham, Glasgow, and on the Greek isle of Lesbos, among others.

For believers, relics of the martyrs signified the saints’ continuing their invisible presence among communities of pious Christians. In 11th-century Brittany, for instance, one bishop used what was purported to be Valentine’s head to halt fires, prevent epidemics, and cure all sorts of illnesses, including demonic possession.

As far as we know, though, the saint’s bones did nothing special for lovers .


The Real Story of Saint Valentine

St Valentine is widely associated with love and romance, but who was he really? Learn the surprising history of the Catholic saint behind this popular holiday.

Tradition has it that St Valentine’s mission involved marrying Christian couples according to the rites of the church. Making possible these marriages is part of the reason he is patron of lovers and happy marriages. Of course, St Valentine’s own great love was Christ and it was evangelising that got him arrested. Legend says he was released the first time he was arrested because he cured the judge’s daughter of blindness. The judge and all his household – forty-four people in all – were baptised. St Valentine continued to evangelise and the second time he was arrested he was martyred.

St Valentine was not associated with romantic love until several centuries later. This may be due to Chaucer who, writing about courtly / romantic love, said that it was on St Valentine’s Day that birds paired up. By Shakespeare’s time it was a feast for lovers and is mentioned in Hamlet. By the 18 th century it had become secular and the tradition of Valentine’s cards began in England. They were made of paper lace and were sent to all sorts of people not just ‘your one true love’.

Valentine’s Day as we know it didn’t really start until the 20 th century. Hallmark cards produced Valentine’s cards in 1913 and then the tradition of red roses, chocolates etc really took off. There is nothing left of St Valentine except his name. However, St Valentine’s relics are all over the world and you can visit him in Birmingham, Glasgow and Dublin as well as Rome, Madrid, Slovenia(where he is patron of beekeepers) to mention just a few.

And if you are feeling lonely on St Valentine’s Day you could go to Roquemaure in France. In 1868, a relic of St Valentine was credited with curing a blight which was destroying their vines and therefore their livelihoods. Since then, on the weekend nearest St Valentine’s day the population dress up and go around kissing everyone within reach.


While You Are Ringing In The Summer, Don't Forget To Remember The Importance Of What We Have Off For.

Home of the free because of the brave.

"The American flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies from the last breath of each solider who died protecting it."

On this present day in America, we currently have over 1.4 million brave men and women actively listed in the armed forces to protect and serve our country.

Currently there is an increased rate of 2.4 million retiree's from the US military

Approximately, there has been over 3.4 million deaths of soldiers fighting in wars.

Every single year, everyone look's forward to Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where beaches become overcrowded, people fire up them grills for a fun sunny BBQ, simply an increase of summer activities, as a "pre-game" before summer begins.

Many American's have forgot the true definition of why we have the privilege to celebrate Memorial Day.

In simple terms, Memorial Day is a day to pause, remember, reflect and honor the fallen who died protecting and serving for everything we are free to do today.

Thank you for stepping forward, when most would have stepped backwards.

Thank you for the times you missed with your families, in order to protect mine.

Thank you for involving yourself, knowing that you had to rely on faith and the prayers of others for your own protection.

Thank you for being so selfless, and putting your life on the line to protect others, even though you didn't know them at all.

Thank you for toughing it out, and being a volunteer to represent us.

Thank you for your dedication and diligence.

Without you, we wouldn't have the freedom we are granted now.

I pray you never get handed that folded flag. The flag is folded to represent the original thirteen colonies of the United States. Each fold carries its own meaning. According to the description, some folds symbolize freedom, life, or pay tribute to mothers, fathers, and children of those who serve in the Armed Forces.

As long as you live, continuously pray for those families who get handed that flag as someone just lost a mother, husband, daughter, son, father, wife, or a friend. Every person means something to someone.

Most Americans have never fought in a war. They've never laced up their boots and went into combat. They didn't have to worry about surviving until the next day as gunfire went off around them. Most Americans don't know what that experience is like.

However, some Americans do as they fight for our country every day. We need to thank and remember these Americans because they fight for our country while the rest of us stay safe back home and away from the war zone.

Never take for granted that you are here because someone fought for you to be here and never forget the people who died because they gave that right to you.

So, as you are out celebrating this weekend, drink to those who aren't with us today and don't forget the true definition of why we celebrate Memorial Day every year.

"…And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice."


The Real Life History of St. Valentine and His Unlikely Connection to Romance

On Feb. 14, sweethearts of all ages will exchange cards, flowers, candy, and more lavish gifts in the name of St. Valentine. But as a historian of Christianity, I can tell you that at the root of our modern holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love.

Valentine’s Day, in fact, originated as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So, how did we get from beheading to betrothing on Valentine’s Day?

Early origins of St. Valentine

Ancient sources reveal that there were several St. Valentines who died on February 14. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., at a time when persecution of Christians was common.

How do we know this? Because, an order of Belgian monks spent three centuries collecting evidence for the lives of saints from manuscript archives around the known world.

They were called Bollandists after Jean Bolland, a Jesuit scholar who began publishing the massive 68-folio volumes of “Acta Sanctorum,” or “Lives of the Saints,” beginning in 1643.

Since then, successive generations of monks continued the work until the last volume was published in 1940. The Brothers dug up every scrap of information about every saint on the liturgical calendar and printed the texts arranged according to the saint’s feast day.

St. Valentine blessing an epileptic. Wellcome Images, CC BY

The Valentine martyrs

The volume encompassing Feb. 14 contains the stories of a handful of “Valentini,” including the earliest three of whom died in the third century.

The earliest Valentinus is said to have died in Africa, along with 24 soldiers. Unfortunately, even the Bollandists could not find any more information about him. As the monks knew, sometimes all that the saints left behind was a name and day of death.

We know only a little more about the other two Valentines.

According to a late medieval legend reprinted in the “Acta,” which was accompanied by Bollandist critique about its historical value, a Roman priest named Valentinus was arrested during the reign of Emperor Gothicus and put into the custody of an aristocrat named Asterius.

As the story goes, Asterius made the mistake of letting the preacher talk. Father Valentinus went on and on about Christ leading pagans out of the shadow of darkness and into the light of truth and salvation. Asterius made a bargain with Valentinus: If the Christian could cure Asterius’s foster-daughter of blindness, he would convert. Valentinus put his hands over the girl’s eyes and chanted:

“Lord Jesus Christ, en-lighten your handmaid, because you are God, the True Light.”

Easy as that. The child could see, according to the medieval legend. Asterius and his whole family were baptized. Unfortunately, when Emperor Gothicus heard the news, he ordered them all to be executed. But Valentinus was the only one to be beheaded. A pious widow, though, made off with his body and had it buried at the site of his martyrdom on the Via Flaminia, the ancient highway stretching from Rome to present-day Rimini. Later, a chapel was built over the saint’s remains.

St. Valentine was not a romantic

St. Valentine kneeling. David Teniers III

The third third-century Valentinus was a bishop of Terni in the province of Umbria, Italy.

According to his equally dodgy legend, Terni’s bishop got into a situation like the other Valentinus by debating a potential convert and afterward healing his son. The rest of story is quite similar as well: He too, was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Gothicus and his body buried along the Via Flaminia.

It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, that there weren’t actually two decapitated Valentines, but that two different versions of one saint’s legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.

It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, that there weren’t actually two decapitated Valentines, but that two different versions of one saint’s legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.

Nonetheless, African, Roman or Umbrian, none of the Valentines seems to have been a romantic.

Indeed, medieval legends, repeated in modern media, had St. Valentine performing Christian marriage rituals or passing notes between Christian lovers jailed by Gothicus. Still other stories romantically involved him with the blind girl whom he allegedly healed. Yet none of these medieval tales had any basis in third-century history, as the Bollandists pointed out.

St. Valentine baptizing St. Lucilla. Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte)

In any case, historical veracity did not count for much with medieval Christians. What they cared about were stories of miracles and martyrdoms, and the physical remains or relics of the saint. To be sure, many different churches and monasteries around medieval Europe claimed to have bits of a St. Valentinus’ skull in their treasuries.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, for example, still displays a whole skull. According to the Bollandists, other churches across Europe also claim to own slivers and bits of one or the other St. Valentinus’ body: For example, San Anton Church in Madrid, Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Prague, Saint Mary’s Assumption in Chelmno, Poland, as well as churches in Malta, Birmingham, Glasgow, and on the Greek isle of Lesbos, among others.

For believers, relics of the martyrs signified the saints’ continuing their invisible presence among communities of pious Christians. In 11th-century Brittany, for instance, one bishop used what was purported to be Valentine’s head to halt fires, prevent epidemics, and cure all sorts of illnesses, including demonic possession.

As far as we know, though, the saint’s bones did nothing special for lovers.

Unlikely pagan origins

Many scholars have deconstructed Valentine and his day in books, articles and blog postings. Some suggest that the modern holiday is a Christian cover-up of the more ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia in mid-February.

Lupercalia originated as a ritual in a rural masculine cult involving the sacrifice of goats and dogs and evolved later into an urban carnival. During the festivities half-naked young men ran through the streets of Rome, streaking people with thongs cut from the skins of newly killed goats. Pregnant women thought it brought them healthy babies. In 496 A.D., however, Pope Gelasius supposedly denounced the rowdy festival.

Still, there is no evidence that the pope purposely replaced Lupercalia with the more sedate cult of the martyred St. Valentine or any other Christian celebration.

Chaucer and the love birds

The love connection probably appeared more than a thousand years after the martyrs’ death, when Geoffrey Chaucer, author of “The Canterbury Tales” decreed the February feast of St. Valentinus to the mating of birds. He wrote in his “Parlement of Foules”:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

It seems that, in Chaucer’s day, English birds paired off to produce eggs in February. Soon, nature-minded European nobility began sending love notes during bird-mating season. For example, the French Duke of Orléans, who spent some years as a prisoner in the Tower of London, wrote to his wife in February 1415 that he was “already sick of love” (by which he meant lovesick.) And he called her his “very gentle Valentine.”

English audiences embraced the idea of February mating. Shakespeare’s lovestruck Ophelia spoke of herself as Hamlet’s Valentine.

In the following centuries, Englishmen and women began using Feb. 14 as an excuse to pen verses to their love objects. Industrialization made it easier with mass-produced illustrated cards adorned with smarmy poetry. Then along came Cadbury, Hershey’s, and other chocolate manufacturers marketing sweets for one’s sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.

Today, shops everywhere in England and the U.S. decorate their windows with hearts and banners proclaiming the annual Day of Love. Merchants stock their shelves with candy, jewelry and Cupid-related trinkets begging “Be My Valentine.” For most lovers, this request does not require beheading.

Invisible Valentines

It seems that the erstwhile saint behind the holiday of love remains as elusive as love itself. Still, as St. Augustine, the great fifth-century theologian and philosopher argued in his treatise on “Faith in Invisible Things,” someone does not have to be standing before our eyes for us to love them.

And much like love itself, St. Valentine and his reputation as the patron saint of love are not matters of verifiable history, but of faith.

Lisa Patel is a Professor of History & Religion, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.


Who was Saint Valentine? And why was he beheaded?

Valentine's Day has a surprisingly raunchy history, going back thousands of years.

Valentine’s Day is named after St. Valentine, who has become known as the patron saint of lovers. He was a rather mercurial figure about whom little is known.

Who was St. Valentine and how did he come to bless lovers' hearts in the middle of February? One can imagine some combination of a cherubic Cupid and a saintly old man with a nice smile fulfilling that role. The truth is, of course, more complicated. First of all, there was more than one Saint Valentine. There were three.

All three men lived during the 3rd century A.D. Two lived in Italy—Saint Valentine of Rome and Saint Valentine of Terni—while the third resided in a Roman province in North Africa. So which Saint Valentine do we celebrate on February 14th?

That would be the life of Saint Valentine of Rome who, far from being lucky in love on February 14th, was beheaded. Hardly a romantic ending. However, it's likely that the stories of several Valentines merged into one as 'Valentius' (meaning 'worthy,' 'strong' and 'powerful' in Latin) was a popular moniker at the time. Several martyrs ended up with that name.

The church itself has some doubts about what specifically happened in Saint Valentine’s life. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius I described St. Valentine as a martyr like those 'whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.' Gelasius I understood how little was known about the saint when establishing February 14th as the day to celebrate Valentine’s life.

Circa 260 AD, The trial of St Valentine, patron saint of lovers. Original Artist: By Bart Zeitblom (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

St. Valentine of Rome was supposedly a temple priest who was executed near Rome by the anti-Christian Emperor Claudius II. The crime? Helping Roman soldiers to marry when they were forbidden to by the Christian faith at the time.

St. Valentine of Interamna (modern Terni, Italy) was a bishop who was also martyred. It is possible, however, that St. Valentine of Interamna and St. Valentine of Rome were the same person. One biography says that Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna but during a temporary stay in Rome, he was imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded on February 14, 269 A.D.

According to one historical account, the Roman Emperor went to such measures against Valentine because the saint tried to convert him to Christianity. This enraged Claudius, who tried to get Valentine to renounce his faith. The martyr refused, so the emperor ordered him beaten with clubs and stones, and subsequently executed him.

One (or two) St. Valentines are thought to be buried in a cemetery in the north of Rome. Little is known about the third Valentine in North Africa other than his supposed martyrdom.

How did we go from Christian martyrs to Hallmark cards? When Pope Gelasius I dedicated February 14th to the saint and martyr Valentine, he chose that date to replace the traditional Roman feast Lupercalia, a pagan festival popular at the time. Lupercalia was a fertility festival in honor of the god Faunus (Lupercus), the protector of sheep and goats from wolf attacks, as well as Lupa - the she-wolf who nurtured the orphans Romulus and Remus, associated with the founding of Rome by legend.

The pagan fertility celebration was marked by all manner of rituals like foot racing among naked men, covered in skins of sacrificed goats. Apparently, they would whip women staged along the race course as they ran. Another ritual required a child to pair couples at random who would have to live together and be intimate for an entire next year in order to fulfill the fertility rite. The church was eager to replace such practices with its own focus and St. Valentine became the saint of lovers.

Valentine's Day card from early 20th century.

As St. Valentine’s Day was spread to England and France by Benedictine monks, the practice started to acquire more modern characteristics in the Middle Ages. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer, in particular, is credited with spreading the notion of courtly romance through his writings, some dedicated to St. Valentine.

Writing 'valentines' to your beloved is linked to that same time period, with the oldest such note dating to the 15th century. As reported by Italian Heritage, it was written by Charles d' Orléans, who was at that point held in the Tower of London, following his defeat at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). Charles wrote to his wife the words that translated to: “I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine”.

Shakespeare also took part in popularizing the link between Valentine's Day and love, writing about St. Valentine's day in a romantic context as part of his "Midsummer Night's Dream".

Exchanging "valentines" or love notes (often heart-shaped) on Valentine's Day further spread throughout Anglo-Saxon countries in the 19th century. Large-scale marketing and production of greetings cards started with the Industrial Revolution as early as mid-19th century. This process of commercialization of the holiday continued, especially in the United States, during the 20th century, adding additional traditions like more elaborate love notes, with added gifts like chocolates, flowers and jewelry.

So while the original St. Valentine was likely tortured and beheaded on February 14th, his sacrifice for the Christian faith has become the Valentine's Day we have today.


The 'real' St. Valentine was no patron of love

(THE CONVERSATION) On Feb. 14, sweethearts of all ages will exchange cards, flowers, candy, and more lavish gifts in the name of St. Valentine. But as a historian of Christianity, I can tell you that at the root of our modern holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love.

Valentine&rsquos Day, in fact, originated as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So, how did we get from beheading to betrothing on Valentine&rsquos Day?

Early origins of St. Valentine

Ancient sources reveal that there were several St. Valentines who died on Feb. 14. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., at a time when persecution of Christians was common.

How do we know this? Because, an order of Belgian monks spent three centuries collecting evidence for the lives of saints from manuscript archives around the known world.

They were called Bollandists after Jean Bolland, a Jesuit scholar who began publishing the massive 68-folio volumes of &ldquoActa Sanctorum,&rdquo or &ldquoLives of the Saints,&rdquo beginning in 1643.

Since then, successive generations of monks continued the work until the last volume was published in 1940. The Brothers dug up every scrap of information about every saint on the liturgical calendar and printed the texts arranged according to the saint&rsquos feast day.

The volume encompassing Feb. 14 contains the stories of a handful of &ldquoValentini,&rdquo including the earliest three of whom died in the third century.

The earliest Valentinus is said to have died in Africa, along with 24 soldiers. Unfortunately, even the Bollandists could not find any more information about him. As the monks knew, sometimes all that the saints left behind was a name and day of death.

We know only a little more about the other two Valentines.

According to a late medieval legend reprinted in the &ldquoActa,&rdquo which was accompanied by Bollandist critique about its historical value, a Roman priest named Valentinus was arrested during the reign of Emperor Gothicus and put into the custody of an aristocrat named Asterius.

As the story goes, Asterius made the mistake of letting the preacher talk. Father Valentinus went on and on about Christ leading pagans out of the shadow of darkness and into the light of truth and salvation. Asterius made a bargain with Valentinus: If the Christian could cure Asterius&rsquos foster-daughter of blindness, he would convert. Valentinus put his hands over the girl&rsquos eyes and chanted:

&ldquoLord Jesus Christ, en-lighten your handmaid, because you are God, the True Light.&rdquo

Easy as that. The child could see, according to the medieval legend. Asterius and his whole family were baptized. Unfortunately, when Emperor Gothicus heard the news, he ordered them all to be executed. But Valentinus was the only one to be beheaded. A pious widow, though, made off with his body and had it buried at the site of his martyrdom on the Via Flaminia, the ancient highway stretching from Rome to present-day Rimini. Later, a chapel was built over the saint&rsquos remains.

St. Valentine was not a romantic

The third third-century Valentinus was a bishop of Terni in the province of Umbria, Italy.

According to his equally dodgy legend, Terni&rsquos bishop got into a situation like the other Valentinus by debating a potential convert and afterward healing his son. The rest of story is quite similar as well: He too, was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Gothicus and his body buried along the Via Flaminia.

It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, that there weren&rsquot actually two decapitated Valentines, but that two different versions of one saint&rsquos legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.

Nonetheless, African, Roman or Umbrian, none of the Valentines seems to have been a romantic.

Indeed, medieval legends, repeated in modern media, had St. Valentine performing Christian marriage rituals or passing notes between Christian lovers jailed by Gothicus. Still other stories romantically involved him with the blind girl whom he allegedly healed. Yet none of these medieval tales had any basis in third-century history, as the Bollandists pointed out.

In any case, historical veracity did not count for much with medieval Christians. What they cared about were stories of miracles and martyrdoms, and the physical remains or relics of the saint. To be sure, many different churches and monasteries around medieval Europe claimed to have bits of a St. Valentinus&rsquo skull in their treasuries.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, for example, still displays a whole skull. According to the Bollandists, other churches across Europe also claim to own slivers and bits of one or the other St. Valentinus&rsquo body: For example, San Anton Church in Madrid, Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Prague, Saint Mary&rsquos Assumption in Chelmno, Poland, as well as churches in Malta, Birmingham, Glasgow, and on the Greek isle of Lesbos, among others.

For believers, relics of the martyrs signified the saints&rsquo continuing their invisible presence among communities of pious Christians. In 11th-century Brittany, for instance, one bishop used what was purported to be Valentine&rsquos head to halt fires, prevent epidemics, and cure all sorts of illnesses, including demonic possession.

As far as we know, though, the saint&rsquos bones did nothing special for lovers.

Many scholars have deconstructed Valentine and his day in books, articles and blog postings. Some suggest that the modern holiday is a Christian cover-up of the more ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia in mid-February.

Lupercalia originated as a ritual in a rural masculine cult involving the sacrifice of goats and dogs and evolved later into an urban carnival. During the festivities half-naked young men ran through the streets of Rome, streaking people with thongs cut from the skins of newly killed goats. Pregnant women thought it brought them healthy babies. In 496 A.D., however, Pope Gelasius supposedly denounced the rowdy festival.

Still, there is no evidence that the pope purposely replaced Lupercalia with the more sedate cult of the martyred St. Valentine or any other Christian celebration.

Chaucer and the love birds

The love connection probably appeared more than a thousand years after the martyrs&rsquo death, when Geoffrey Chaucer, author of &ldquoThe Canterbury Tales&rdquo decreed the February feast of St. Valentinus to the mating of birds. He wrote in his &ldquoParlement of Foules&rdquo:

&ldquoFor this was on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.&rdquo

It seems that, in Chaucer&rsquos day, English birds paired off to produce eggs in February. Soon, nature-minded European nobility began sending love notes during bird-mating season. For example, the French Duke of Orléans, who spent some years as a prisoner in the Tower of London, wrote to his wife in February 1415 that he was &ldquoalready sick of love&rdquo (by which he meant lovesick.) And he called her his &ldquovery gentle Valentine.&rdquo

English audiences embraced the idea of February mating. Shakespeare&rsquos lovestruck Ophelia spoke of herself as Hamlet&rsquos Valentine.

In the following centuries, Englishmen and women began using Feb. 14 as an excuse to pen verses to their love objects. Industrialization made it easier with mass-produced illustrated cards adorned with smarmy poetry. Then along came Cadbury, Hershey&rsquos, and other chocolate manufacturers marketing sweets for one&rsquos sweetheart on Valentine&rsquos Day.

Today, shops everywhere in England and the U.S. decorate their windows with hearts and banners proclaiming the annual Day of Love. Merchants stock their shelves with candy, jewelry and Cupid-related trinkets begging &ldquoBe My Valentine.&rdquo For most lovers, this request does not require beheading.

It seems that the erstwhile saint behind the holiday of love remains as elusive as love itself. Still, as St. Augustine, the great fifth-century theologian and philosopher argued in his treatise on &ldquoFaith in Invisible Things,&rdquo someone does not have to be standing before our eyes for us to love them.

And much like love itself, St. Valentine and his reputation as the patron saint of love are not matters of verifiable history, but of faith.


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