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Who is St. Valentine?

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 02/13/13

The feast of St Valentine has existed since the 5th century

Neither a well-documented saint nor simply an insipid cupid, the identity of St. Valentine could be traced to one of several early martyrs.

February 14, celebrated by couples everywhere as Valentine's Day, is more than an opportunity to sell chocolates and flowers – it is actually the feast day of St. Valentine. The confusing part about this “patron of love” is that early martyrologies list three different St. Valentines under the feast day of February 14. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that two of these saints (a priest and a bishop) were Romans martyred in the second half of the third century and buried on the Flaminian Way. A third Valentine was martyred in Africa with a number of companions.

The most likely candidate for which the holiday is named is the Roman priest who reportedly died in 269 A.D.  Evidence of his life includes an early church dedicated to him and a catacomb purportedly belonging to him. According to the Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in 1493, Valentine was one of many Christians persecuted under the Emperor Claudius. The story is told that he was jailed for marrying Christian couples – an action that was illegal at the time. Though he originally found favor with the Emperor, he was beheaded after trying to convert Emperor Claudius to Christianity.

While the feast day of St. Valentine was established in 496 A.D., it wasn’t until much later that there came to be any verifiable evidence that he was associated by the faithful with romantic love. Based upon St. Valentine’s assistance in marrying Christian couples, he became linked with love and marriage some time around the Middle Ages, particularly in England by writers such as Chaucer.

And, while the fact remains that many of details of St. Valentine’s life are unknown to us (as with many saints of the early Church), we certainly would not be remiss in praying for his intercession regarding matters of the heart. 

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