Who Was St. Valentine?

Although not many Episcopalians observe the Feast of St. Valentine, quite a few give out candy hearts on February 14. So, who was St. Valentine?

Well, it’s a little hazy. Maybe multiple people: There’s a Valentine who was a Roman priest and physician killed by Emperor Claudius II for marrying Christian couples. There was also a Valentine who was the bishop of Terni in Italy. He was also probably martyred sometime around 270 A.D. (reports date his death at 267, 270, 273, 280, and 300 A.D). They may have been the same person. He (or they) may have been executed for trying to convert the emperor or aiding persecuted Christians or refusing to sacrifice to pagan Gods.

Pope Gelasius officially dedicated February 14th to St. Valentine in 496 AD. There are a couple possible reasons for that date. He may have been killed on February 14 or it may be the day he was buried. It’s also possible the date was chosen in an attempt to Christianize the pagan feast of Lupercalia, which took place around that time and involved sacrifices, drinking, and beating people with the hides of animals while naked.

Coinciding with Lupercalia, which was associated with fertility, may be one of the reasons Valentine’s Day is associated with romantic love. There’s also a legend that Valentine fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer (or judge, depending on the source). He supposedly signed his letter to her, “from your Valentine,” and restored her sight. This is most likely just a legend.

Valentine’s Day falls near Galatin’s Day (Galatin means “lover of women”), which was celebrated by the Normans. People may have just gotten confused at some point.

Or the association with romantic love may be Chaucer’s fault. He called Valentine’s Day the day “when every fowl cometh there to chose his mate.” Shakespeare helped romanticize the holiday, too.

Though many of the associations with Valentine may have accumulated over the centuries, there really was a Valentine. Archeologists have found a Roman catacomb and church dedicated to him.

Today, in addition to being the supposed reason for all those chocolate hearts and roses, he is also the patron saint of beekeepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, travelers, young people, and plague.





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