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Saint Valentine: Christian Martyr & Christian Basis for Valentine's Day

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Saint Valentine & Valentine’s Day:


Valentine’s Day, a popular secular and commercial holiday, was originally a Christian feast day celebrating the martyrdom of a Christian saint named Valentine. Unfortunately, his life has been largely lost to history and it’s no longer clear precisely what he did. In fact, it’s not clear who exactly he was because there were at least three different Valentines in the early Christian church, any or all of whom could have been the original object of Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine, Christian Priest:


According to one story, Roman emperor Claudius II imposed a ban on marriages because too many young men were dodging the draft by getting married (only single men had to enter the army). A Christian priest named Valentinus was caught performing secret marriages and sentenced to death. While awaiting execution, young lovers visited him with notes about how much better love is than war — the first “valentines.” The execution occurred in 269 CE on February 14th.

St. Valentine, Christian Priest:


A second priest named Valentinus was jailed for helping Christians. During his stay he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and sent her notes signed “from your Valentine.” Some stories say that he first cured her eyesight (without which she couldn’t have read the notes) and thereby converted the jailer to Christianity. He was eventually beheaded and buried on the Via Flaminia. Pope Julius I reportedly built a basilica over this Valentine’s grave.

St. Valentine, Bishop of Terni:


A third and final Valentinius was the bishop of Interamna (modern day Terni) and he was also martyred, with his relics being taken back to Terni.

Valentinus, Gnostic Teacher:


In 143, Valentinus was a Gnostic teacher in Rome. This Valentinus had nothing directly to do with the creation of Valentine’s Day and Gnosticism came to be regarded as a heresy, but there are some interesting parallels. Valentinus rejected asceticism and celibacy, arguing that marital love was central to Christianity.

Valentine, Patron Saint of:


Like most saints, Valentine is patron of many things. The obvious ones include: Betrothed or engaged couples, marriages, love and lovers, and young people. Less obvious ones include: beekeepers, epilepsy and fainting, plague, and travelers.

Valentine’s Symbols:


In connection with the various things of which Valentine is the patron saint, there are a number of different ways in which Valentine is traditionally represented: with birds (European tradition had it that birds chose their mates in February), bearing a sword, giving sight to a blind girl (the jailer’s daughter), being beheaded, with an epileptic child, and with roses. His relics were donated by Pope Gregory XVI to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.

Christianity Takes Over Valentine’s Day:


Although tradition has it that Valentine was beheaded in 270 CE, he wasn’t given a feast day until 469. Pope Gelasius I wanted a holy day in honor of Valentinus to replace that of the pagan god Lupercus. This allowed Christianity to take over some of the celebrations of love and fertility which had perviously occurred in the context of paganism. Pagan celebrations were reworked to fit the martyr theme — Christianity did not approve of rituals that encouraged sexuality.

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