Who was St. Valentine?

The real answer is we don’t really have any idea.

When I was young I was told that we celebrate St-Valentine’s Day for lovers because St. Valentine was a priest who married young Christian couples during the Roman period. Apparently he would marry couples in prison and those bound for death in the coliseum.

St.ValentineTwo Valentines where martyred in the third century at Rome. One was a priest and was killed on the Flaminian way and the other was the Bishop of Terni. Our St. Valentine is a conflation of the two. The amusing part is that neither one had any association to lovers! Although a later legend developed that while in custody awaiting execution he married fellow prisoners (which accounts for the popular story). The Feast of St. Valentine is on February 14th and this is also the day that birds choose their mate. Overtime, the connection between the date and the birds coupling developed into the holiday for lovers. The idea can be seen expressed in one of Chaucer’s 14th century poems that directly links romantic love with February 14th.

Most of us don’t know our own patron’s feast day but  Christians and non-Christians alike know February 14th. St. Valentine has the most popularly celebrated feast day, enjoyed by people around the world. However, he is far from the most popular Saint and the fact is we don’t know much about him (or them). This being the case, I suppose I shouldn’t begrudge those who forget the Saint in “Valentine’s Day”.

Happy (St.) Valentine’s Day!


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