St. Valentine’s Day: Just where did it come from?

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St. Valentine is often pictured in religious icons with a sword, the instrument of his martyrdom. (Photo courtesy of CBN.com.)

Love can be a confusing thing, so it’s fitting that the calendar day devoted to love should be the subject of some confusion itself. Feb. 14 is the day marked on the calendars of multiple Christian traditions to celebrate the feast of St. Valentine. Let’s bring some clarity to this holiday.

When the Church says, “St. Valentine,” who is it talking about? The Roman name Valentinus was popular from the second century AD into the early Middle Ages, and about a dozen saints and martyrs bear the name. Most folks agree that “our” St. Valentine was a priest or bishop in Italy, either Rome or Terni, and that he was executed on the outskirts of Rome on Feb. 14 in A.D. 269 or 270.  He may have had the romantic, but illegal, habit of performing weddings for Christian couples. While in prison, he was said to have healed his jailer’s daughter of blindness and left her a letter on his way to be executed, signed “Your Valentine.”

The original date is still in question. Catholics celebrated the feast on Feb. 14, the accepted day of St. Valentine’s martyrdom (In fact, three different Valentines are said to have died on that same date in different years), while Eastern Christian traditions opt for July 6.

The facts about Saint (or Saints) Valentine are debated widely enough that the Roman Catholic Church in 1969 removed the feast day from its official calendar, though it still recognizes him as a saint and allows local Catholic authorities to hold their own celebrations if they choose.

In the 1300’s, English author Geoffrey Chaucer commemorated the betrothal of then Prince Richard II with a poem picturing St. Valentine’s Day as the day when birds choose their mates, which may have launched the notion of the holiday being a time to choose love.

Remember to show some love to someone this holiday season!

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