Saint Valentine or Valentinus is commonly known as a famed romantic, but not so commonly known as a religious martyr. What’s more, fragmented historical accounts indicate that Saint Valentine might not have been one, but two men, whose separate legends amalgamated overtime.
One account of Saint Valentine occurred during the 3rd century A.D. This Saint Valentine was a priest in Rome, who was persecuted for marrying Christian couples by the emperor Claudius II. During this time, the church was experiencing great persecution by the reigning Roman Empire. Saint Valentine’s mission was to help Christian couples receive the proper sacraments for marriage which was outlawed at the time. According to legend, Claudius II had taken a liking to Saint Valentine and tried to save his life by converting him to Roman paganism. Ironically, Saint Valentine tried to convert the emperor to Christianity instead. Outraged by his actions, the emperor had Saint Valentine brutally executed by beatings, stoning, and finally, beheading. In addition, legend suggests that while Saint Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the blind daughter of his prison guard. It is said that he wrote her a love letter enclosed: from your Valentine. And, right before his inevitable fate, legend has it that Saint Valentine performed the miracle of curing the girl of her blindness. Once the girl could see, her father and their large family converted to Christianity.
Another account of Saint Valentine appears out of early martyrologies, a catalog of the names and histories of those who were executed for refusing to renounce Christianity. This Saint Valentine was a bishop who lived in Interamna (present-day Terni, Italy) during the 3rd century A.D. Similar to the first account of Saint Valentine, legend signifies that during a visit to Rome, he was imprisoned, tortured, and executed. It is said that after his execution, his body was hastily buried at a nearby cemetery, but his disciples went to his burial ground to unearth him and return him to Interamna.
The history of Saint Valentine is murky because there isn’t enough reliable information known about him other than his name. According to the Roman Martyrology, a martyr with the name Saint Valentine died on February 14th at the Via Flaminia in the north of Rome. Although there are at least two accounts connected to Saint Valentine being more than one man, the similarities of their legends suggest to historians that Saint Valentine, the priest and Saint Valentine, the bishop might have actually been the same man. While there is scarce information to know this for certain, we can’t say. However, we do know that Saint Valentine, the man or men, inadvertently started an annual tradition in many cultures around the world, to celebrate the love one has for another through sweet gestures of chocolates, flowers, love letters, and romance. In honor of Saint Valentine, we celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th.
Happy Valentine’s Day!