Saint Valentine (in Latin, Valentinus) is a widely recognized third-century Roman saint commemorated on February 14 and associated since theHigh Middle Ages with a tradition of courtly love. Nothing is reliably known of St. Valentine except his name and the fact that he died on February 14 on Via Flaminia in the north of Rome. It is uncertain whether St. Valentine is to be identified as one saint or two saints of the same name. Several differing martyrologies have been added to later hagiographies that are unreliable. For these reasons this liturgical commemoration was not kept in theCatholic calendar of saints for universal liturgical veneration as revised in 1969. But the “Martyr Valentinus who died on the 14th of February on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian bridge in Rome” still remains in the list of officially recognized saints for local veneration. Saint Valentine’s Church in Rome, built in 1960 for the needs of the Olympic Village, continues as a modern, well-visited parish church.
Today, Saint Valentine’s Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Valentine, is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion, as well as in theLutheran Church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine the Presbyter is celebrated on July 6 and Hieromartyr Saint Valentine (Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Italy) is celebrated on July 30. Notwithstanding, because of the relative obscurity of this western saint in the East, members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) may celebrate their name day on the Western ecclesiastical calendar date of February 14.
In the Roman Catholic Church the name Valentinus does not occur in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, compiled by the Chronographer of 354. But it already can be found in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, which was compiled, from earlier local sources, between 460 and 544. The feast of St. Valentine of February 14 was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” As Gelasius implies, nothing was yet known to him about his life.
The Catholic Encyclopedia and other hagiographical sources speak of three Saint Valentines that appear in connection with February 14. One was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) both buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city. The third they say was a saint who suffered on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman province of Africa, for whom nothing else is known.
Though the extant accounts of the martyrdoms of the first two listed saints are of a late date and contain legendary elements, a common nucleus of fact may underlie the two accounts and they may refer to one single person.According to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna and was imprisoned and tortured in Rome on February 14, 273, while on a temporary stay there. His body was buried in a hurry at a nearby cemetery and a few nights later his disciples came and carried him home.
Τhe Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church’s official list of recognized saints, for February 14 gives only one Saint Valentine; a martyr who died on the Via Flaminia.
The inconsistency in the identification of the saint is replicated in the various vita that are ascribed to him. A commonly ascribed hagiographical identity appears in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493). Alongside a woodcut portrait of Valentine, the text states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stones; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. Various dates are given for the martyrdom or martyrdoms: 269, 270, or 273.
Another popular hagiography describes Saint Valentine as the former Bishop of Terni, a city in southern Umbria, in what is now central Italy. While under house arrest of Judge Asterius, and discussing his faith with him, Valentinus (the Roman pronunciation of his name) was discussing the validity ofJesus. The judge put Valentinus to the test and brought to him the judge’s adopted blind daughter. If Valentinus succeeded in restoring the girl’s sight, Asterius would do anything he asked. Valentinus laid his hands on her eyes and the child’s vision was restored. Immediately humbled, the judge asked Valentinus what he should do. Valentinus replied that all of the idols around the judge’s house should be broken, the judge should fast for three days, and then undergo baptism. The judge obeyed and as a result, freed all the Christian inmates under his authority. The judge, his family and forty others were baptized. Valentinus was later arrested again for continuing to serve Jesus and was sent to the prefect of Rome, to the emperor Claudius himself. Claudius took a liking to him until Valentinus tried to lead Claudius to Jesus, whereupon Claudius refused and condemned Valentinus to death, commanding that Valentinus either renounce his faith or he would be beaten with clubs, and beheaded. Valentinus refused and Claudius’ command was executed outside the Flaminian Gate February 14, 269
English eighteenth-century antiquarians Alban Butler and Francis Douce, noting the obscurity of Saint Valentine’s identity, suggested that Valentine’s Day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia (mid-February in Rome). This idea has lately been contested by Professor Jack Oruch of the University of Kansas. Many of the current legends that characterise Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love.
Historian Jack Oruch has made the case that the traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day”, documented in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, did not exist before Chaucer. He argues that the speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-century antiquaries, notablyAlban Butler, the author of Butler’s Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. In the French 14th-century manuscript illumination from a Vies des Saints(illustration above), Saint Valentine, bishop of Terni, oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni; there is no suggestion here that the bishop was a patron of lovers.