Trying to identify the “real” Saint Valentine isn’t as easy as you might think. There are several claims to the title of Saint Valentine, and so many legends swirling about that even the Roman Catholic Church could not decide, so ended up removing his feast day from their official calendar in 1969. Apparently the name “Valentine,” or derivatives thereof, were fairly common. The root valens means “worthy” and was therefore a fitting name for one who gained sainthood. Even more surprising is that the historical facts dubiously support any romantic attachments to the actual persons who bore the name!
There are three men amongst the many, who legends and archeological artifacts support strongest as THE Valentine.
The first was a holy priest or Bishop in Rome, who assisted the escape of imprisoned Christian martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II. He also persisted in marrying couples, this an act forbidden to young men by Claudius because he wanted to keep his potential soldier stock unencumbered. Valentine was eventually apprehended for his “crimes” and sent to the Emperor of Rome, who was ineffectual in making him renounce his faith. The emperor commanded Valentine be beaten with clubs, stoned, and then beheaded. His execution occurred on February 14, 269. Since miracles must surround one who is named a Saint, there is a legend of questionable and much later dating that says Valentine restored sight to his jailor’s blind daughter, and on the eve of his death penned a note to the daughter saying, ‘From your Valentine.’
Another Valentine was a Bishop of Terni, consecrated by Pope Victor I in 197. A reputed evangelist, miracle worker and healer, he was imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded at night to avoid a riot by the Terni people who loved him. This occurred during the persecution of Aurelius, and also on February 14.
The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under the date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa, with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him. There are literally dozens of other listed Valentines scattered throughout the various ancient annuls of the church, with many dates given besides February 14.
The first two are the top candidates for the position, and there are some scholars who lean toward the idea that these men were the same fella. However, that does not appear to be the most popular belief. There are enough ancient inscriptions, notes among the Acta of the Catholic Church written by both men and written by others about them, as well as the legends, to support the probability of them being different people. In both these cases it was love for their Christian faith that drove them to martyrdom and led to their honoring.
Archeologists have found a number of ancient catacombs that bear the name Valentine. There are also several churches bearing the name Valentine. In the Middle Ages, two Roman churches were dedicated to Saint Valentine. One was the tenth-century church Sancti Valentini de Balneo Miccine or de Piscina, which was rededicated by Pope Urban III in 1186. The other, on the Via Flaminia, was the ancient basilica S. Valentini extra Portam.
The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” As Gelasius implied, nothing definitive was known, even then, about the lives of any of these martyrs. The legends and facts were so intermingled, and impossible to adequately decipher, that the official commemoration for universal liturgical veneration for Saint Valentine was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1969. Nevertheless, many areas where specific remains or inscriptions to Saint Valentine are found still laud his day with religious observances.
So, as fascinating as all this has been, how did we get from a lesser known saint amongst the thousands to this Day of lovers and romance that is celebrated practically everywhere? Bet you are dying to know! Tune in on Monday for the Rest of the Story.