St. Valentine, Famed Romantic and Religious Martyr

His spirit is celebrated with romance on this day of love. But what do we really know about the namesake of this Hallmark holiday?

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Starry-eyed romantics and red-rose haters alike can look to one source for their respective love or cynicism every February 14: St. Valentine.  Though everyone knows the name, much less is known about the man – to wit, he may not even have been just one figure.  Historical details are murky, and the prevailing theory is that one or multiple Valentines existed and may have been conflated over the years.

Fast Facts:

  • One Valentine was a Roman priest and doctor who was persecuted by the emperor Claudius II for marrying Christian couples.  Claudius took a liking to Valentine, but Valentine overstepped his bounds when he tried to convert the emperor, and Claudius sentenced him to death – and an ugly death at that.  Lore suggests that he was beaten, stoned, and finally beheaded.
  • Some accounts state that this priest had fallen in love with the blind daughter of his jailer, and signed a letter that he wrote to her “from your Valentine.”  Another tale says that after his brutal death, he performed the miracle of restoring the sight of his jailer’s daughter.
  • There is another Valentine who appears in early martyrologies: a bishop of Terni, Italy, who was also allegedly persecuted in Rome.  It’s been proposed that this man was one and the same as the Valentine executed by Claudius.
  • St. Valentine was said to be interred north of Rome on February 14, though this date may mark his death instead of his burial.
  • The feast of St. Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496.  Some say that Valentine’s feast day is celebrated in February because the church wanted to Christianize an ancient Roman pagan festival called Lupercalia, which centered around fertility and purification, and also took place in February.
  • Valentine’s feast day has been celebrated as a lovers’ holiday and a day of romance since the 14th century, when the date was thought to be the beginning of the mating season for birds.

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