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This Week In History

Valentine´s Day. February 14.

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred in 269 and was added to the calendar of saints by Pope Gelasius I in 496 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. The relics of Saint Valentine were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which “remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV”. The flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Other relics are found at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.

Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian in 273. He is buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location from Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni (Basilica di San Valentino). The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him. A relic claimed to be Saint Valentine of Terni’s head was preserved in the abbey of New Minster, Winchester, and venerated.

February 14 is celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day in various Christian denominations; it has, for example, the rank of ‘commemoration’ in the calendar of saints in the Anglican Communion. In addition, the feast day of Saint Valentine is also given in the calendar of saints of the Lutheran Church. However, in the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feast day of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

It is said that Saint Valentine performed clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry by the Roman Emperor Claudius II in order to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. However, this marriage ban was never issued and that Claudius II told his soldiers to take two or three women for themselves after his victory over the Goths. According to legend, in order “to remind these men of their vows and God’s love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment”, giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine’s Day.

Saint Valentine supposedly wore a purple amethyst ring, customarily worn on the hands of Christian bishops with an image of Cupid engraved in it, a recognizable symbol associated with love that was legal under the Roman Empire; Roman soldiers would recognize the ring and ask him to perform marriage for them.

There is no evidence of any link between St. Valentine’s Day and the rites of the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia, despite many claims by many authors. The celebration of Saint Valentine did not have any romantic connotations until Chaucer’s poetry about “Valentines” in the 14th century.

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

[“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]

Popular modern sources claim links to unspecified Greco-Roman February holidays alleged to be devoted to fertility and love to St. Valentine’s Day, but prior to Chaucer in the 14th century, there were no links between the saints named Valentinus and romantic love.

In Ancient Rome, Lupercalia, observed February 13-15, was an archaic rite connected to fertility. Lupercalia was a festival local to the city of Rome. The more general Festival of Juno Februa, meaning “Juno the purifier” or “the chaste Juno”, was celebrated on February 13-14.

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