Saint Valentine was a widely recognized 3rd-century Roman saint, commemorated in Christianity on February 14. From the High Middle Ages his Saints’ Day has been associated with a tradition of courtly love. He is also a patron saint of epilepsy.
Saint Valentine was a clergyman – either a priest or a bishop – in the Roman Empire who ministered to persecuted Christians. He was martyred and his body buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome, on February 14, which has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine’s Day) since 496 AD.
Relics of him 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”. His skull, crowned with flowers, is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome; other relics of him were taken to Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, where they remain; this house of worship continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially on Saint Valentine’s Day, for those seeking love. For Saint Valentine of Rome, along with Saint Valentine of Terni, “abstracts of the acts of the two saints were in nearly every church and monastery of Europe”, according to Professor Jack B. Oruch of the University of Kansas.
Saint Valentine is commemorated in the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Churches on February 14. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, he is recognized on July 6; in addition, the Eastern Orthodox Church observes the feast of Hieromartyr Valentine, Bishop of Interamna, on July 30. In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church removed his name from the General Roman Calendar, leaving his liturgical celebration to local calendars, though use of the pre-1970 liturgical calendar is also authorized under the conditions indicated in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of 2007. The Roman Catholic Church continues to recognize him as a saint, listing him as such in the February 14 entry in the Roman Martyrology, and authorizing liturgical veneration of him on February 14 in any place where that day is not devoted to some other obligatory celebration, in accordance with the rule that on such a day the Mass may be that of any saint listed in the Martyrology for that day.
Saint Valentine doesn’t occur in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, the Chronography of 354, although the patron of the Chronography’s compilation was a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentinus. However, it is found in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, which was compiled between 460 and 544 from earlier local sources. 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.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia and other hagiographical sources speak of three Saints Valentine that appear in connection with February 14. One was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna (modern Terni, Italy) both buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city. The third was said to be a saint who suffered on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman province of Africa, of 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 a single person. According to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna and while on a temporary stay in Rome he was imprisoned, tortured, and martyred there on February 14, 269. His body was hastily buried at a nearby cemetery and a few nights later his disciples retrieved his body and returned him home.
The 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 name “Valentine” derived from valens (worthy, strong, powerful), was popular in Late Antiquity. About eleven other saints having the name Valentine are commemorated in the Roman Catholic Church. Some Eastern Churches of the Western rite may provide still other different lists of Saint Valentines. The Roman martyrology lists only seven who died on days other than February 14: a priest from Viterbo (November 3); Valentine of Passau, papal missionary bishop to Raetia, among first patrons of Passau, and later hermit in Zenoburg, near Mais, South Tyrol, Italy, where he died in 475 (January 7); a 5th-century priest and hermit (July 4); a Spanish hermit who died in about 715 (October 25); Valentine Berrio Ochoa, martyred in 1861 (November 24); and Valentine Jaunzarás Gómez, martyred in 1936 (September 18). It also lists a virgin, Saint Valentina, who was martyred in 308 (July 25) in Caesarea, Palestine.
Hagiography and Testimony
The inconsistency in the identification of the saint is replicated in the various vitae that are ascribed to him.
A common hagiography describes Saint Valentine as a priest of Rome or as the former Bishop of Terni, an important town of Umbria, in central Italy. While under house arrest of Judge Asterius, and discussing his faith with him, Valentinus (the Latin version of his name) was discussing the validity of Jesus. 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 whatever he asked. Valentinus, praying to God, 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, and that the judge should fast for three days and then undergo the Christian sacrament of baptism. The judge obeyed and, as a result of his fasting and prayer, freed all the Christian inmates under his authority. The judge, his family, and his forty-four member household of adult family members and servants were baptized.
Valentinus was later arrested again for continuing to evangelize and was sent to the prefect of Rome, to the emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II) himself. Claudius took a liking to him until Valentinus tried to convince Claudius to embrace Christianity, 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.
An embellishment to this account states that before his execution, Saint Valentine wrote a note to Asterius’s daughter signed “from your Valentine”, which is said to have “inspired today’s romantic missives”.
The Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine, compiled about 1260 and one of the most-read books of the High Middle Ages, gives sufficient details of the saints for each day of the liturgical year to inspire a homily on each occasion. The very brief vita of St Valentine states that he was executed for refusing to deny Christ by the order of the “Emperor Claudius” in the year 269. Before his head was cut off, this Valentine restored sight and hearing to the daughter of his jailer. Jacobus makes a play with the etymology of “Valentine”, “as containing valor”.
A popularly 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 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. However, when Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor, he 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.
It is said that Valentine, who was a priest, defied the order of the emperor Claudius and secretly performed Christian weddings for couples, allowing the husbands involved to escape conscription into the pagan army. This legend claims that soldiers were sparse at this time so this was a big inconvenience to the emperor. The account mentions that 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 persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine’s Day.
Another legend is that Valentine refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. Being imprisoned for this, Valentine gave his testimony in prison and through his prayers healed the jailer’s daughter who was suffering from blindness. On the day of his execution, he left her a note that was signed, “Your Valentine”.
Churches Named after Saint Valentine
There are many churches dedicated to Saint Valentine in countries such as Italy. Saint Valentine was venerated no more than other Christian martyrs and saints.
A 5th- or 6th-century work called Passio Marii et Marthae made up a legend about Saint Valentine’s Basilica being dedicated to Saint Valentine in Rome. A later Passio repeated the legend and added the adornment that Pope Julius I (357–352) had built the ancient basilica S. Valentini extra Portam on top of his sepulchre, in the Via Flaminia. This church was really named after a 4th-century tribune called Valentino, who donated the land on which it is built. It hosted the martyr’s relics until the 13th century, when they were transferred to Santa Prassede, and the ancient basilica decayed.
Saint Valentine’s Church in Rome, built in 1960 for the needs of the Olympic Village, continues as a modern, well-visited parish church.
Saint Valentine’s Day
Saint Valentine of Rome was martyred on February 14 in AD 269. The Feast of Saint Valentine, also known as Saint Valentine’s Day, was established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496 to be celebrated on February 14 in honour of the Christian martyr.
February 14 is Saint Valentine’s Day in the Lutheran calendar of saints. The Church of England had him in its pre-Reformation calendars, and restored his mention as bishop and martyr in its 1661–62 Book of Common Prayer, and most provinces of the Anglican Communion celebrate his feast. The Roman Catholic Church includes him in its official list of saints, the Roman Martyrology. He was also in the General Roman Calendar for celebration as a simple feast until 1955, when Pope Pius XII reduced all such feasts to just a commemoration within another celebration. The 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar removed even this mention leaving it for inclusion only in local calendars such as that of Balzan, Malta. His commemoration was still in the 1962 Roman Missal and is thus observed also by those who, in the circumstances indicated in Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, use that edition.
July 6 is the date on which the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Roman presbyter Valentine; on July 30 it observes the feast of the hieromartyr Valentine, Bishop of Interamna. Members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) may observe their name day on the Western ecclesiastical calendar date of February 14.
English 18th-century antiquarians Alban Butler and Francis Douce, noting the obscurity of Saint Valentine’s identity, suggested that Saint Valentine’s Day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia (mid-February in Rome). This idea has lately been dismissed by academics and researchers, such as Professor Jack B. Oruch of the University of Kansas, Henry Ansgar Kelly of the University of California, Los Angeles and Associate Professor Michael Matthew Kaylor of the Masaryk University. Many of the current legends that characterize Saint Valentine were invented in the 14th century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love.
Oruch charges that the traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day”, documented in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement 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, notably Alban 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.
During the Middle Ages, it was believed that birds paired in mid-February. This was then associated with the romance of Valentine. Although these legends differ, Valentine’s Day is widely recognized as a day for romance and devotion.
Associate Christian Relics
The flower-crowned alleged skull of St. Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
St. Valentine’s remains are deposited in St Anton’s Church, Madrid, where they have lain since the late 1700s. They were a present from the Pope to King Carlos IV, who entrusted them to the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools (Piarists). The relics have been displayed publicly since 1984, in a foundation open to the public at all times in order help people in need.
Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, Dublin, also houses some relics of St Valentine. On 27 December 1835 the Very Reverend Father John Spratt, Master of Sacred Theology to the Carmelite order in Dublin, was sent the partial remains of St Valentine by Cardinal Carlo Odescalchi, under the auspices of Pope Gregory XVI. The relics and the accompanying letter from Cardinal Odescalchi have remained in the church ever since. The remains, which include “a small vessel tinged with his blood”, were sent as a token of esteem following an eloquent sermon Fr Spratt had delivered in Rome. On Saint Valentine’s Day in Ireland, many individuals who seek true love make a Christian pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, which is said to house relics of Saint Valentine of Rome; they pray at the shrine in hope of finding romance. There lies a book in which foreigners and locals have written their prayer requests for love.
Another relic was found in 2003 in Prague in Church of St Peter and Paul at Vyšehrad.
A silver reliquary containing a fragment of St. Valentine’s skull is found in the parish church of St. Mary’s Assumption in Chełmno, Poland.
Relics can also be found in Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Another set of relics can also be found in Savona, in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
Alleged relics of St. Valentine also lie at the reliquary of Roquemaure, Gard, France, in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, in Balzan in Malta and also in Blessed John Duns Scotus’ church in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, Scotland. There is also a gold reliquary bearing the words “Corpus St. Valentin, M” (Body of St. Valentine, Martyr) at Birmingham Oratory, UK, in one of the side altars in the main church.
- Jones, Terry. “Valentine of Terni”. Patron Saints Tom. Archived from the original on April 1, 2010. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
- Palacios-Sánchez, Leonardo; Díaz-Galindo, Luisa María; Botero-Meneses, Juan Sebastián (2017). “Saint Valentine: Patron of sex and epilepsy”. Repertorio de Medicina y Cirugía. 26 (4): 253–255. doi:10.1016/j.reper.2017.08.004.
- Cooper, J. C. (2013). Dictionary of Christianity. Routledge. p. 278
- Webb, Matilda (2001). The churches and catacombs of early Christian Rome: a comprehensive guide. Sussex Academic Press. p. 254.
It remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede (Itinerary 3) during the pontificate of Nicholas IV (1288-92).
- Hecker, Jurgen (February 11, 2010). “Irish priests keep a candle for Saint Valentine”. The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on February 7, 2018. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
A book in the church is filled with countless wishes addressed to the patron saint of lovers, while a steady stream of locals and visitors alike pray here for help in their amorous quests. “God has someone in mind for me, and I obviously haven’t met him yet. So I just hope that Saint Valentine will assist me, that I will find him,” said one female visitor. Another added: “We just prayed to find the right one, and I believe I will be led to him when the time is right.”
- Meera, Lester (2011). Sacred Travels. Adams Media. p. When Father John Spratt, an Irish Carmelite returned to his parish in Dublin from preaching in a Jesuit church in Gesu, Italy, he brought the sacred relics of Saint Valentine, given to him by Pope Gregory XVI
- Chapman, Alison (2013). Patrons and Patron Saints in Early Modern English Literature. Routledge. p. 122.
- “Holy Days”. Church of England (Anglican Communion). 2012. Retrieved October 27,2012.
February 14 Valentine, Martyr at Rome, c.269
- Pfatteicher, Philip H. (August 1, 2008). New Book of Festivals and Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints. Fortress Press. p. 86.
- “St. Valentine”. pravmir.com. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013.
- Coptic Orthodox Church – From Where Valentine’s Day Comes From Archived May 25, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- Calendarium Romanum Libreria Editrice Vaticana (1969), p. 117
- Roman Martyrology, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001, p. 141
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 355
- Roger Pearse, The Chronography of 354 in “Early Church Fathers” online. Retrieved September 27, 2012
- “XVI kalendas Martii Interamnae Via Flaminia miliario ab Urbe Roma LXIII natale Valentini.” In J. B. de Rossi, p. 20 (XVI KL. MAR.). See also M. Schoepflin, p. 40: “the original text”.
- “CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Valentine”. newadvent.org.
- René Aigrain, Hagiographie: Ses sources, ses méthodes, son histoire, (Paris 1953, pp. 268–269; Agostino S. Amore, “S. Valentino di Roma o di Terni?”, Antonianum 41.(1966), pp. 260–277.
- Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1983, p. 1423
- San Valentino: Biografia. Archived December 29, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Diocese of Terni. 2009. English version, written probably after examining all previous sources.
- Martyrologium Romanum 2001, February 14, p. 141.
- “Saints A to Z: V”. Catholic Online.
- “Latin saints of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Rome“. Archived from the original on July 17, 2012.
- Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001. Index, p. 768; Saint Valentina okay finep. 390.
- Palacios-Sánchez, Leonardo; Díaz-Galindo, Luisa María; Botero-Meneses, Juan Sebastián (October 2017). “Saint Valentine: Patron of lovers and epilepsy”. Repertorio de Medicina y Cirugía. 26 (4): 253–255. doi:10.1016/j.reper.2017.08.004.
Valentine placed his hands over her eyes, prayed to God, and Julia was able to see. Asterius, in awe of Valentine’s power, converted to Christianity, along with 46 members of his family. He then also freed all Christians who were confined in his prison.
- Castleden, Rodney, “The Book of Saints”. 2006, p.28.
- “St. Valentine”. Catholic Online.
- Kithcart, David (September 25, 2013). “St. Valentine, the Real Story”. CBN.
In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation all because of his stand for Christian marriage. The story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to Asterius’ daughter. He inspired today’s romantic missives by signing it, “from your Valentine.”
- Under the circumstances, Emperor Claudius was a detail meant to enhance verisimilitude. Attempts to identify him with the only 3rd-century Claudius, Claudius Gothicus, who spent his brief reign (268–270) away from Rome winning his cognomen, are illusions in pursuit of a literary phantom: “No evidence outside several late saints’ legends suggests that Claudius II reversed the policy of toleration established by the policy of his predecessor Gallienus”, Jack Oruch states, in “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February”, Speculum 56.3 (July 1981), p. 536, referencing William H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (New York, 1967, p. 326.
- Jack Oruch, “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February”, Speculum 56.3 (July 1981 pp. 534–565 ).
- Christensen, Max L. (1997). Heroes and Saints: More Stories of People Who Made a Difference. Westminster John Knox Press.
- Frank Staff, The Valentine & Its Origins, 1969, Frederick A. Praeger.
- Henry Ansgar Kelly, in Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine. 1986, p. 62, says: As Thurston has noted, no English church is known to have been dedicated to St. Valentine(Thurston, Butler’s Lives, 2:217). I should add that we have no record of a large number of churches in England.
- Ansgar, 1986, pp. 49–50
- Christian Hülsen, Chiese di Roma nel Medio Evo (Florence: Olschki, (On-line text).
- Butler, Alban (1981). Butler’s Lives of the saints. Burns & Oates.
- Chanchreek, K. L.; Jain, M. K. (2007). Encyclopaedia of Great Festivals. Shree Publishers & Distributors.
- See February calendar on the here on the Church of England website.
- “The Calendar”. October 16, 2013.
- Glav. “Greek name days of the year 2015 – month of celebration : February”. Εορτολόγιο Ελληνικών Ονομάτων – Orthodox Greek Namedays.
- Henry Ansgar Kelly (1986). Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine. Brill. pp. 58–63.
- Michael Matthew Kaylor (2006). Secreted Desires: The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde (electronic ed.). Masaryk University Press. p. footnote 2 in page 235.
- Jack Oruch identified the inception of this possible connection in Butler’s Lives of the… Saints, 1756, and Douce’s Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of Ancient Manner, see Oruch, Jack B. (July 1981). “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February”. Speculum. 56 (3): 534–565. doi:10.2307/2847741. JSTOR 2847741.
- Oruch, Jack B. (July 1981). “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February”. Speculum. 56 (3): 534–565. doi:10.2307/2847741. JSTOR 2847741.
- BN, Mss fr. 185. The book of Lives of the Saints, with illuminations by Richard de Montbaston and collaborators, was among the manuscripts that Cardinal Richelieu bequeathed to the King of France.
- O’Sullivan, Michael (2018). Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters Between Budapest and Transylvania. Budapest–New York: Central European University Press. p. 172
- Shrine of St Valentine, Whitefriar Street Church, Irish Province of the Order of Carmelites Archived January 26, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
- “Love-seekers show up at St. Valentine’s resting place in Dublin”. IrishCentral. February 10, 2017. Archived from the original on February 14, 2017. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
- “Radio Praha – Ostatky sv.Valentýna jsou uloženy na pražském Vyšehradě”. radio.cz.
- “Chełmno – miasto zabytków i zakochanych”. chelmno.pl. Archived from the original on January 23, 2015.
- “Skull bits of St. Valentine in Chelmno”. Atlas Obscura.
- “The Holy Relics of St. Valentine Lie on Lesbos Island”. Greek Reporter.
- “Savona: Guida ed Informazioni per visitare Savona”.
- Johannes Baptista de Rossi et Ludovicus Duchesne, ed., (1894). Martyrologium Hieronymianum: ad fidem codicum adiectis prolegomenis. Ex Actibus Sanctorum Novembris, Tomi II, pars prior. Bruxellis. lxxxii, 195 p. S. Valentinus, p. 20.
- De Voragine, Jacobus. The Life of Saint Valentine. In Legenda Aurea, compiled around 1275
- Thurston, Herbert (2015). St. Valentine. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 15.
- Hülsen, Christian (1927). Le chiese di Roma nel medio evo: cataloghi ed appunti. Florence. CXV, 640 p. (On-line text).
- Thurston, Herbert (1933). St. Valentine, Martyr. In Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Vol. II, pp. 214–217. New York. 409 pp.
- Aigrain, René (1953). Hagiographie: Ses sources, ses méthodes, son histoire. Paris.
- Amore, Agostino. S. Valentino di Roma o di Terni?, Antonianum 41 (1966), pp. 260–77.
- Kellogg, Alfred (1972). “Chaucer’s St. Valentine: A Conjecture.” In Kellogg, Chaucer, Langland, Arthur. 1972, pp. 108–145.
- Amore, Agostino (1975). I martiri di Roma. Roma, Antonianum. 322 p.
- Kelly, Henry Ansgar (1986). Chaucer and the cult of Saint Valentine. Leiden, the Netherlands. 185 p.
- Martyrologium Romanum. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001, p. 141 (February 14). 773 p.
- In Search of St. Valentine. Scotsman.com blog, 14 February 2005.
- Oruch, Jack B. “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February”, Speculum 56 (July 1981), pp. 534–565.
- Schoepflin, Maurizio and Seren, Linda ()2000). San Valentino di Terni : storia, tradizione, devozione. Morena (Roma). 111 p.
- Paglia, Vincenzo. “Saint Valentine’s Message”. Washington Post, February 15, 2007.
- Saint Valentine: Biography. Diocese of Terni. 2009.
- St Valentine of Terni – English translation of his “Passio” (BHL 8460)
- St Valentine of Rome – English translation of his “Passio” (BHL 8465) – actually an extract from the Acts of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Habbakuk (BHL 5543).
Originally published by Wikipedia, 02.07.2003, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.