For many, February 14 is most closely associated with symbols of love. Heart shapes are everywhere you look, chocolate is plentiful and (hopefully) on sale, and you can’t turn without seeing bouquets upon bouquets of red roses. It is an occasion for telling those closest to us how much we care for them – or for pining for that special someone, hoping they will waltz into our lives sooner rather than later.
#1 What accounts of St. Valentine do we have?
There are actually potential accounts of two individuals named Valentine as recognized by the early church: one was a priest, the other a bishop. Both are revered by the Church for their actions and sainthood, and it is believed by some that the two accounts may refer to the same person.
The accounts may be reconciled as featuring two different aspects or time periods in a single person’s life, thus providing an opportunity to think of St. Valentine as a single individual.
Additionally, there are nearly a dozen official accounts of martyrs who bear the name Valentine. This individual is therefore known as St. Valentine of Rome in order to differentiate him from the others, who have been recognized and venerated across the centuries.
#2 When did he live?
Valentinus (the Roman version of his name) was born in 226. His name means “worthy,” “strong,” or “powerful” in Latin, and was a common name of the era. He was either a priest of Rome or the bishop of Terni, a town in central Italy.
#3 Why is Valentine’s Day celebrated on February 14?
February 14 is the day that Valentine was martyred for his faith. All records are clear on the date of his martyrdom, and it is also his feast day in the Catholic Church. Pope Gelasius I authorized this feast day and day of recognition in the year 496.
#4 How did he come to prominence?
Under house arrest by a local judge, Valentinus was brought on trial before him to discuss the validity of Jesus. The judge brought his blind daughter out to Valentinus and said that if he was able to restore her sight, he would do whatever Valentinus asked. Valentinus laid his hand on the girl, and her sight was miraculously restored.
The judge humbled himself and asked Valentinus what he should do, to which Valentinus replied that he should remove all of the idols from his household. The judge obeyed and continued on in a life of faith: he also freed all the Christian inmates at his prison and baptized his entire family and household.
#5 How did the tradition of giving Valentines start?
Later legendary accounts of the miraculous healing state that, before he was martyred, Valentinus wrote a letter to the judge’s daughter whose sight he had restored. The note was signed “From your Valentine.” Some sources also say that the recipient of the letter was the daughter of his jailer, who received a note after a similar miraculous restoration from blindness just before he was put to death.
This later gave rise to the more romantic tradition of giving notes “from a valentine” and became closely associated with the holiday.
#6 How was Valentine put to death?
Valentine was later arrested again for evangelizing and preaching Christianity, which at the time was illegal in the Roman Empire. He was brought before the Emperor himself, who initially liked Valentine until he began to try to convert the Emperor. The Emperor commanded that Valentinus renounce his faith or be put to death, and Valentinus refused. He was martyred on February 14, 269.
#7 What other legends about St. Valentine exist?
Another account states that Valentinus performed secret marriages for men who wanted to escape conscription into the Roman army – if the men were married, they could not be drafted. This was in defiance to an order from the Emperor, which may have led to his arrest.
It is also said that Valentinus cut out heart shapes from parchment as a reminder to the couples he married of their vows before God and each other and as a reminder of their love and of God’s love.
#8 How does someone become a saint?
After a person has died, their life is investigated by an official expert authorized by the Church. Their initial report is submitted to the bishop of their diocese and further investigation is performed. They may then submit the individual to the office of the Pope for recognition by the universal church. If this recognition is granted, they will have been venerated by the Church, and are given the title “Venerable.”
The next level involves further research, and if warranted the person is beatified and is given the new title “Blessed.”
The final level of investigation determines whether or not miracles were performed. Proof of at least two miracles performed by God through this person must be verified. Once this is proven, the Pope may canonize this person as a saint through a public proclamation.
#9 How did we get Valentine’s Day?
February 14 is the feast day of St. Valentine and is also the day the Church commemorates his martyrdom. Catholics have included him in their official list of saints, and he is also venerated by Lutherans, Anglicans, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The association between Valentinus and February 14 has been well established for much of the history of the Church.
Some scholars in the 18th century proposed that Valentine’s Day was originally associated with romantic traditions in order to eclipse and absorb a similar pagan holiday, much in the way that Christmas was reported to have been moved in order to upend other seasonal celebrations of the winter solstice; however, that theory was quickly debunked. Many traditions now associated with Valentine’s Day actually originated in the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, a writer and poet from the 14th century. It was also believed that Valentine’s Day came to be associated with romance because birds reputedly mated in mid-February, making it a natural association.
Whatever the reason, these legends, as well as his own actions, have forever associated St. Valentine with romance and love.
#10 What about St. Valentine makes him the patron saint of happiness?
Some Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, recognize certain saints as able to intercede before God in prayer on behalf of those suffering from a particular ailment or to pray on behalf of a certain kind of believer. Others do not believe that saints can intercede on behalf of the living when they die.
Because of the actions associated with his life and ministry, St. Valentine is considered the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages, as well as the broader concept of romantic love. He is also the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy, and he is also believed to be a guardian against fainting.
#11 What relics of Valentinus exist?
The skull of Valentine, adorned with a crown of flowers, can be found at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome. Other fragments of his body can be found at churches elsewhere around the world.
Another important relic is a vial believed to be tinged with his blood. It was given to an Irish priest by Pope Gregory XVI after a moving sermon, and the vial is now housed at a special shrine to St. Valentine at a church in Dublin, Ireland.
As with many saints who lived before the legalization of Christianity, conflicting accounts of St. Valentine’s life exist, and many of them may be attributed to legend. There was also not an explicit link between Valentinus’ life and ministry, other than the marriages he secretly performed. That being said, many of our modern traditions do find their roots directly from accounts of his life, and it has consistently been an aspect of Catholic culture for hundreds of years.
Valentine’s Day can be compared with Christmas in this way: both days have a saint indelibly linked with them (for Christmas, it is St. Nicholas, in addition to the obvious commemoration and celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ), and both have traditions that bear some influence from each man’s ministry. Whatever their sources, we should be sure that the next time they appear on our calendar, we are able to look past the superficial traditions and consider the examples of the men who died for their faith in Jesus.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.