Saint Valentine (also known as Valentinus) refers to one of several martyred saints of ancient Rome. The feast of Saint Valentine was always celebrated on February 14 by the Roman Catholic Church until a revised calendar was issued in 1969, due to the Second Vatican Council. It is now celebrated largely as a secular holiday throughout the world with little religious connection.
There is much that is not known about St. Valentine. His very origins are murky as his birth date and birthplace are unknown. Valentine’s name does not even occur in the earliest list of Roman martyrs. This list was compiled by the Chronographer of 354.
The feast of St. Valentine was first decreed in 496 by Pope Gelasius I. Even then the exact identity of the man is still unknown as the saint whose feast was celebrated on the day now known as St. Valentine’s Day was possibly one of three martyred men named Valentinus. We do know that he lived in the late third century, during the reign of Emperor Claudius II.
It is believed that the St. Valentine who is celebrated was either a priest in Rome, a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) or a martyr in the Roman province of Carthage. Each has a different date given for their martyrdoms: 269, 270, or 273. The confusion is understandable since the name was a popular one in late antiquity.
While the truth still remains hidden there are legends and myths that have arisen from the works of St. Valentine. One of the most often repeated is that during imprisonment by the Emperor Claudius the priest Valentine healed the jailor’s daughter who visited him often. Before his death in prison he sent her a note signed, “From your Valentine”. It is believed that many of the current legends surrounding Valentine appear in the late Middle Ages in France and England, when the feast day of February 14 became associated with romantic love. But is is believed that Valentine was buried on February 14th. Regardless of the naysayers, St. Valentine remains the patron saint of lovers.
Other stories place Valentine as the heroic rescuer of tortured prisoners. It is believed that he was intrumental in helping free prisoners who were being kept and tortured by the Romans for their Christian beliefs. Another story has Valentine performing secret marriages for young lovers. This happened after Emperor Claudius in an attempt to have young, single and unattached men fill the ranks of his army had to oulaw marriage to cut down on the complications of having his soldiers leave wife and family behind. Upon hearing about Valentine’s defying him Claudius ordered him to be imprisoned. It is only speculation, but with so many common threads running through each story (prison, soldiers, marriage, love etc.) it has lead some historians to theorize that each story is true and about the same man. Unfortunately we will never know!
In 1836, the relics that were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina, (which was then near Rome), were identified as St Valentine. They were then placed in a gilded casket, and transported to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, to which they were donated by Pope Gregory XVI. Today tourists visit the saintly remains on St. Valentine’s Day, when the casket is carried in solemn procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and all those in love.
Regardless of his orgins St. Valentine stands today as a symbol of the power of love: the power of love that has not dimmed or changed through the ages of man and down through time.