Who was St. Valentine?

Today, Valentine is synonymous with love, but there was a time when it was just a nice Roman name meaning “strong.” The fourteenth of February actually commemorates the day that one St. Valentine was martyred, in about the year 270.

Who was Saint Valentine?

He was a Roman priest who had been caught marrying and aiding Christian couples, when Christians were being persecuted by Emperor Claudius of Rome. Apparently, Valentine’s marrying of Christian couples was illegal. The Emperor had decided that married men made bad soldiers, and so he outlawed marriages.

Did St. Valentine actually live, or is it all just a legend? Archaeologists have found a Roman catacomb and ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine. February 14th was first commemorated to St. Valentine in 496, only a few hundred years after the saint’s supposed death. The Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in 1493, includes the first mention of St. Valentine, noting that he was a Roman priest martyred under Claudius. So the legends are based on an actual man, though we know little about the man himself.

There are several other St. Valentines in the Catholic Church, including one who was pope for a mere 40 days in 827. He had been an archdeacon before his election as pope, and was from a wealthy Roman family. Another St. Valentine, who was a bishop in Germany and was also martyred by a Roman emperor, has a feast day on July 16. Yet another St. Valentine was a bishop in Genoa who aided monastic expansion, and celebrates his feast day on May 2.

So what makes February 14th and this one particular St. Valentine so important? Passing notes on Valentine’s day came from a note St. Valentine gave to his jailer’s daughter—whose sight he is said to have restored—on the eve of his execute. The note was just signed, “from your Valentine,” as thousands of lovers have since signed their notes. Celebrating the day goes back to a Roman spring-time festival in mid-February. Boys and girls drew names from boxes to find partners for the festival—and sometimes for life! The Church changed this festival by replacing the names in boxes with saint’s names, and dedicating the day to St. Valentine.

St. Valentine is actually not the saint of those trying to find love. He’s the patron for couples who have already found it. Catholic Online notes, “He is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travelers, young people. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses.”

And so, Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

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