Just Who Was Saint Valentine?

 471px-St-valentine-baptizing-st-lucilla-jacopo-bassanoValentine was a Roman priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius the Second in the third century AD. He is sometimes known as Claudius the Cruel – and is not the Emperor Claudius who was responsible for ordering the building of Hadrian’s Wall across the North of England in AD 122-130.

The story tells us that Claudius believed that married men did not make good soldiers. They worried too much about leaving wives and families behind if they were killed to be truly effective in battle. So Claudius issued an edict, prohibiting the marriage, or engagement, of young people.

Now, Roman society at this time was very permissive, and polygamy was popular. Yet some of the people were still attracted to the Christian faith. Unfortunately for them, since the Christian Church taught that marriage was sacred between one man and one woman, this posed a problem. It was obvious that something had to be done about it . . .

It was Valentine who set about encouraging people to be married within the Christian community, despite the emperor’s edict. Naturally, ceremonies were performed in secret.

Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured. A man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind, was called to judge him. Valentine is said to have prayed with, and healed, the girl – which caused Asterius himself to become a Christian. Whatever the outcome of that, somewhere around the year AD 270 Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution: beating, stoning and eventual beheading. Whilst in prison, awaiting execution, Valentine is said to have written a note to Asterius’ daughter. He signed it . . .

From your Valentine

. . . thus inspiring today’s romantic cards.

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Some interesting points about Saint Valentine:

  • Like many stories set so long ago, this one is often questioned. The main problem stems from Valentine’s true identity. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, there were at least three different St. Valentines, all of them martyrs. A second one was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy) and the third, a martyr in the Roman province of Africa. It is possible that the first two are the same person. However, the confusion surrounding Valentine’s true identity caused the Catholic Church to discontinue liturgical veneration (public worship) of him in 1969, although his name remains on its list of officially recognised saints.
Valentineanddisciples

St. Valentine of Terni oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni. Attribution: Public Domain Wikimedia Commons

  • Valentine’s flower-adorned skull is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Excavation of a catacomb near Rome in the 1800’s yielded the skeletal remains, and other relics, now associated with St. Valentine. As is customary, various bits of these remains have been distributed to reliquaries around the world: Czech Republic, Scotland, England, France and Ireland:
382px-St-valentine_110921-01

Shrine of St’ Valentine at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin. Attribution: blackfish

  • No record exists of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to a poem written by the medieval poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, in 1374.  It is called ‘Parliament of Foules’. In this, he links a tradition of love with the celebration of Valentine’s Feast Day. The poem refers to February 14th as the day on which birds (and humans) come together to find a mate:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day

Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate…’

*

I won’t go on about the ways in which Valentine’s Day is celebrated today. There are lots of posts out there with little poems and stories. I’ll just finish off with a few pictures appropriate to a few of the things we associate with the celebration today.

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(Header image: 1600’s painting of St. Valentine baptising St. Lucilla.  From Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.)

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
This entry was posted in Customs and Traditions and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to Just Who Was Saint Valentine?

  1. scribbley14 says:

    Really interesting post! I didn’t know much about the background of Valentine’s Day ☺

  2. I of July says:

    I agree… interesting indeed :)… thanks Millie

  3. Quite interesting and informative. I enjoyed reading this.

  4. There are so many great stories about St Valentine. This is the second one I have read today. The other one may also interest you as it continues on from your historical theme. It is located at this link http://luciledegodoy.com/2015/02/14/it-is-valentines-day/#more-2494

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you for the link, Amanda. I’ll be sure to have a look at it. I love finding out about the origin of old traditions. I already knew who Valentine was but I had to look up the actal dates and other details. 🙂

  5. milliethom says:

    Reblogged this on Millie Thom and commented:

    This is the second post I wrote last year and have decided to reblog. After all, information about St. Valentine hasn’t changed since then. Perhaps next year, I’ll find a different angle to talk about. 🙂
    Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

  6. Gosh, I had no idea ! What an interesting and fascinating post Millie. Thanks for sharing. x

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Lynne. It’s funny how many people think that Valentine’s day is a modern creation. I suppose it’s partly because we so often just say the name – Valentine’s Day – without adding the ‘Saint’ before it.

  7. anroworld says:

    Thank you, Millie, it was a very interesting post, I liked it!

  8. This is very interesting, Millie! I hate that he had to go through so much torture then a beheading just for helping young people to get married.

  9. Nitin Chandran Nair says:

    Very interesting! Can I reblog?

  10. Nitin Chandran Nair says:

    Reblogged this on Nitin Nair Writes and commented:
    This is one blog you should read. In case you didn’t know who Valentine was, then check this out! 🙂

  11. empathy75 says:

    That is very interesting. I wana share this to my facebook Millie. I think only few people know the history. How sad it is! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Very interesting post as always Millie! you make things come to life for us!

  13. Antonia says:

    I’m glad you reposted this Millie… it is so interesting! Wow, 3 St. Valentines! Happy Valentine’s Day Millie!

  14. irinadim says:

    I’m so glad you reposted this fascinating post, Millie. I knew hardly anything about St. Valentine’s life. I’m going to reblog this.

  15. irinadim says:

    Reblogged this on Irina's Poetry Corner and commented:
    If you want to know who St Valentine was, read this fascinating post by Millie Thom!

  16. Sadie's Nest says:

    Wow, how interesting! Glad you re-posted this!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Sadie, Im glad it was of interest to you. I’m always fascinated by the stories behind our many customs and traditions. Sometimes we celebrate things without knowing why, or how they all started. So my aim on my blog is to delve into as many as I can. Once I run out of the ones we celebrate in Britain, I’ll head over to your ‘neck of the woods’. I can always make a start with Groundhog Day next year! 🙂

  17. Aquileana says:

    Hello there Millie….
    I didn’t know the story behind Saint Valentine´s Day…
    How sad that St Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured, as you highlight above… when in fact he was aiming to defend the sacred marriage between a man and a woman…
    It is interesting to learn about these particular circumstances as they show us that the main values back in Ancient Rome were related to war and probably opposed to what he was intending to spread by then…
    Thanks so much for the great post and interesting reading… All my best wishes to you, with love. Aquileana 😀

  18. DG MARYOGA says:

    Wonderful post on the story and life of St Valentine,it’s not only roses and little presents that brighten the day of love.The historical and social background you have stated make your work so very special,dear Millie!I would like to tell you that the Greek Orthodox Church commemorates the feastday of the saints of marriage, Priscilla and Aquila, on February 13, a day before St. Valentine’s Day.
    Actually,St Valentine’s Day is a foreign-brought celebration,a globalised and commercialised celebration,but Ancient Greeks celebrated Love in a differnet way.Go back to Sappho and Plato’s Symposium and Eros the symbol of love and you will find the connections … For some Orthodox Greeks who prefer a religious day to celebrate Love,we have one on the 3rd of July, the name day of Saint Hyacinth ( Hyacinth is a flower as well) and also one on the 13th of Feb, the name day of Saint Akyllas and Priskilla. who protect Orthodox couples and lovers.
    ♥ Too late for St Valentine wishes,dear Millie ♥ ~ Happy All Hearts’ Day-Month-Year … 🙂 ❤ xxx

  19. inesephoto says:

    Thank you for so very interesting post, Millie! I didn’t know that the Catholic church does not worship St. Valentine. Throughout the human history, middle-aged tyrants sent young men to die. Valentine aided young couples in getting married and having families, standing for life against death. What a brave man.

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you for reading it, Inese. Yes, Valentine was extremely brave to make the stand he did. Talking about middle-aged tyrants sending young men to die links perfectly with the post I did about WW1. High flying generals were severely criticised for sending men ‘over the top’ of the trenches – knowingly to their deaths. In their own defence, they claimed no other option – which was probably true at the time, unfortunately. This situation can doubtless be applied to so many (all) wars.
      As for Valentile … sadly, he met with a horrible end.

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