Saint Valentine

Born: 226 AD, Terni, Italy

Died: February 14, 269 AD, Rome, Italy

Full name: Valentine of Terni 

Valentine was a Christian priest who had also worked as a doctor and ministered to persecuted Christians and Romans alike. He lived in Italy during the third century AD and served as a priest in Rome. Historians don’t know much about Valentine’s early life and they pick up the story after he began working as a priest.

Roman religion at the beginning of the Roman Empire (27 BC - 476 AD) was polytheistic and local. Each city worshipped its own set of gods and goddesses that had originally been derived from ancient Greece and become Romanized. In Rome, citizens were expected to demonstrate their loyalty to Rome by participating in the rites of the state religion which had numerous feast days, processions and offerings to their many idols throughout the year. Christians, who worshipped only one God, could not worship idols, and so were seen as belonging to an illicit religion that was anti-social and subversive. The persecution of Christians occurred throughout the Roman Empire, beginning in the 1st century AD and ending in the 4th century AD. Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, and after this event the persecution of Christians began with mass imprisonment and executions all over the Roman Empire. Some stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, from where they were conscripted into the military and were often beaten and tortured.

Valentine also became famous for marrying couples who were in love but couldn’t get legally married in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, who had outlawed weddings. Claudius wanted to recruit large numbers of men as centurions in the army and thought that marriage would be an obstacle to recruiting new soldiers. He also wanted to prevent his existing soldiers from getting married because he thought that marriage would distract them from their work. When Emperor Claudius discovered that Valentine was performing weddings, he sent Valentine to jail. Valentine used his time in jail to continue to reach out to people with the love that he said Jesus Christ gave him for others.

Another story tells that in order to remind these men of their vows and God’s love, Valentine is said to have cut heart shapes from parchment, giving them to persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine's Day. He befriended his jailer, Asterious, who became so impressed with Valentine’s wisdom that he asked Valentine to help his daughter, Julia, with her lessons. Julia was blind and needed someone to read material for her to learn it. Valentine became friends with Julia through his work with her when she came to visit him in jail. Emperor Claudius also came to like Valentine and offered to pardon him and set him free if Valentine would renounce his Christian faith and agree to worship the Roman gods. Not only did Valentine refuse to leave his faith, he also encouraged Emperor Claudius to place his trust in Christ. Valentine’s faithful choices cost him his life. Claudius was so enraged at Valentine’s response that he sentenced him to death.

Before he was killed, Valentine wrote a last note to encourage Julia to stay close to Jesus and to thank her for being his friend. He signed the note: “From your Valentine.” That note inspired people to begin writing their own loving messages to people on Valentine’s Feast Day, February 14th, which is celebrated on the same day on which Valentine was martyred. The most famous miracle attributed to Valentine involved the farewell note that he sent to Julia. Believers say that God miraculously cured Julia of her blindness so that she could personally read Valentine’s note, rather than just have someone else read it to her. Throughout the years since Valentine died, people have prayed for him to intercede for them before God about their romantic lives. Numerous couples have reported experiencing miraculous improvements in their relationships with boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses after praying for help from Valentine.

Valentine was beaten, stoned, and beheaded on February 14, 270 AD. People who remembered his loving service to many young couples began celebrating his life, and he came to be regarded as a saint through whom God had worked to help people in miraculous ways. After he was martyred his body was buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia on February 14, which has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine's Day) since 496 AD when Pope Gelasius designated February 14th as Valentine’s official feast day.

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial, which probably occurred around 270 AD others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to Christianize the pagan celebration of ‘Lupercalia.’ Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, ‘Lupercalia’ was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the ‘Luperci’ an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman.

After his death, relics of Valentine were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages. Later the relics 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. Many years later, an Irish priest was granted permission to exhume Valentine’s remains. In 1835 Fr. John Spratt, used his Irish charm to convince Pope Gregory XVI to exhume Valentine’s remains and allow them to be taken to Ireland as a gift to his fellow Irishmen and women. Ever since then, some of Valentine’s skeleton lies under the altar of Whitefriar Church in Dublin where it attracts visitors from around the world every Valentine’s Day.

Many thanks to Wikipedia and for some of the info used in this article.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia

© John A. Brennan 2022. All Rights Reserved.



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Tags: Ancient History, Christianity, Faith, Folklore, Relics


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