The Mysterious Saint of Love
Saint Valentine’s Day is celebrated throughout the western world and is the second largest card holiday in the world but the origins of this popular holiday can be tied to the Catholic church and several saints. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with the holiday celebrating love? It is believed that over one billion valentine cards are sent annually. How did this feast day celebrating a martyred Catholic saint become the holiday celebrating love and lovers?
Originally, February 15th was a Roman pagan holiday. It was known as Lupercalia and celebrated Faunus (the Roman god of agriculture), the beginning of spring, fertility, and the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. On this day unmarried women’s names were put into a pot. Unmarried men would choose a name and the pair would become romantic couples for the year. These matches often ended in marriage.
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Who Was Saint Valentine?
The Catholic Church celebrates three saints with the name Valentine that were martyred on February 14th. One man was a priest in Rome. Another was a Bishop in Interamna (today’s Ternin in Italy) and the third was a priest that died in Africa. The first two men are often believed to be the same person while nothing more is known of the third except that he died among a group of men.
There are many legends surrounding Saint Valentine. The most popular makes him the saint of marriage. It is said that Valentine was a Roman Priest during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II. Claudius decided that single men made the best soldiers because they did not have families, so he canceled all engagements and forbid marriage in Rome. Valentine disagreed with Claudius and continued to perform marriages in secret. He was discovered, imprisoned and sentenced to death around 270 AD.
Another legend claims that Saint Valentine was a strict follower of his faith. Although practicing Christianity was a death sentence under Claudius II’s rule, Valentine refused to worship Roman Gods. He helped free other Christians that were imprisoned under Roman law. When he was captured he was sent to prison. While in prison he healed the jailer’s daughter of blindness. He fell in love with her and before his death sent her a letter signed “Your Valentine” and so the tradition of Valentine’s began.
A third legend claims that saint Valentine was well loved by children. When he was arrested for practicing Christianity he was missed by the children. They began sending him loving letters and flowers through the bars on his cell window. This is also claimed to be the origin of gifts, cards and flowers on Valentine’s Day.
It is believed that Saint Valentine was beheaded on February 14th. It was made a feast day by the Church in 498 AD. The remains of the saint were given to an Irish priest after a passionate sermon given in Rome by Pope Gregory XVI. These remains can be seen every Valentine’s Day in Dublin, Ireland. Because of the confusion about who Saint Valentine really was, the Catholic Church dropped the feast day from the official Roman Catholic calendar in 1969.
Although Valentine’s day is no longer recognized religiously, it has continued to gain popularity throughout the years. Cards, flowers and candy continue to be the favored gifts exchanged on Valentine’s Day. But in more recent years, romantic dinners and weekend getaways have become more popular.