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  • Writer's pictureSohani Gauniyal

The History of Valentine’s Day’s Valentine


Whether the love in your heart is for a special someone or the discounted candy the day after, there’s always something to appreciate about Valentine’s Day. It’s a staple of the start of a new year, the one savior from the dreary dullness that is January. However, though his day is appreciated, no one seems to appreciate Valentine himself; or rather, the Valentines themselves.


At least two St. Valentines are honored on their feast day of February 14th: St. Valentine of Rome, and St. Valentine of Terni (formerly Interanma). There’s also a secret third St. Valentine mentioned in the Catholic Encyclopedia as being honored on February 14th, though all we know about him is that he died a horrible death in Africa.


Returning back to the main two, St. Valentine of Rome, martyred in 269, is arguably the most “famous” Valentine; St. Valentine’s hagiographies often described him as a priest of Rome. His most well-known legend involved him going against Emperor Claudius II by performing Christian marriages for couples sometime in the 3rd century CE. The married men would thus escape conscription, either because Cladius thought married men made bad soldiers, or because the army was pagan, depending on the source. Supposedly, St. Valentine had hearts cut out of parchment to remind the couples he married of their vows, possibly an origin for the heart imagery commonly seen today. Unfortunately, St. Valentine was found out and, according to Bede’s Martyrology, was interrogated by the Emperor himself, who was actually impressed by the priest. However, disaster struck: Claudius tried to convert St. Valentine to paganism, Valentine tried to convert Claudius to Christianity in return, and it all fell apart from there. St. Valentine was jailed, and was set to be executed. However, before his execution took place, he performed a miracle by healing his jailor’s daughter, Julia, of blindness. The jailor’s entire household were so moved by this, they all converted to Christianity and were baptized, sealing St. Valentine’s fate. St. Valentine also supposedly wrote a letter to Julia on the eve of his execution, signed “Your Valentine,” making it the first ever valentine letter.

        

St. Valentine of Terni’s story was similar to his Roman counterpart. So similar, in fact, they’re basically the exact same person. The only real differences are the location (Terni), the date of his martyring (273), and that he was a bishop instead of a priest. Both were even buried on the Via Flaminia after their respective deaths via beheading. St. Valentine’s history gets even more sketchy; there are at least 50 different saints named Valentine (though not all of them had their feast day on the 14th of February), making it extremely likely their stories all melded together over time; Claudius II never banned the Roman military from marrying; in some accounts, he actually said his soldiers should take one or two women; Valentine’s Day wasn’t even associated with love or romance until the 14th century, when Chaucer wrote “Parliament of Fowls,” which reportedly was supposed to take place on a different St. Valentine’s Day on May 3rd. All sorts of different contractions simply continue to add up.


St. Valentine’s murky history may have played a part in his relative obscurity, despite the holiday bearing his name. Love it or hate it, you now know who to blame for it if it’s the latter.


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