Patron saint of lovers, epileptics, bee keepers and plague

Who was Saint Valentine? That’s a question surrounded in mystery as there were several; however, three Saint Valentines are associated with 14th February:

  • A Roman priest;
  • A bishop of Interamna (Terni, Italy); and
  • A saint who suffered in Africa

Nothing else is known of the last one, but various accounts of the first two suggest that they may, indeed, be one and the same person, and the Catholic Church acknowledges one Saint Valentine: a martyr who died on the Via Flaminia near Rome.  In 496 AD, The Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I; however, due to a lack of concrete evidence about him, his name was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969.

Born in 226 AD in Terni, Italy, the legends attributed to Saint Valentine are numerous but involve his death by clubbing, followed by beheading on 14th February around 269 / 270 AD:

  • One legend states that he was imprisoned for refusing to deny Christ and sacrifice to pagan gods. Whilst in prison, he restored the sight of his jailer’s daughter, with whom he had become friendly.  Prior to his death, he wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter and signed it “from your Valentine”;
  • Another legend centres on him performing Christian weddings. The emperor, ‘Claudius the Cruel’, believed that married men made very poor soldiers and so banned the marriages and engagements of younger citizens, but Saint Valentine continued to marry couples in secrecy.  It is claimed that Saint Valentine cut hearts from parchment and gave them to soldiers and persecuted Christians as a reminder of their vows and God’s love.

So, how did Saint Valentine come to be associated with love?  This is generally thought to be the work of Geoffrey Chaucer. Around 1381, Chaucer wrote the Parlement of Foules (aka the Parliament of Foules) in which he wrote: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / when every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”  By linking courtly love with the celebration of the Feast of Saint Valentine, it is possible that he may have invented the tradition many look forward to each year.

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