Blessed Memorial of St Valentine – 14 February (176-273) Bishop and Martyr – Patron of affianced couples, against epilepsy, against fainting, against plague, apiarists, bee keepers, betrothed couples, Bussolengo, Italy, engaged couples, greeting card manufacturers, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, travellers, young people.
Saint Valentine is a widely recognized third-century Roman saint commemorated on 14 February and since the High Middle Ages is associated with a tradition of courtly love.
All that is reliably known of the saint commemorated today, is his name and that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome.
Because so little is reliably known of him, in 1969 the Catholic Church removed his name from the General Roman Calendar, leaving his liturgical celebration to local calendars. The Church continues to recognise him as a Saint, listing him as such in the Roman Martyrology and authorising liturgical veneration of him on 14 February. Saint Valentine’s Church in Rome, built in 1960 for the needs of the Olympic Village, continues as a modern, well-visited parish church.
Father Frank O’Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, tells the story of the man behind the holiday—St Valentine.
“He was a Roman Priest at a time when there was an emperor called Claudias who persecuted the church at that particular time,” Father O’Gara explains. ” He also had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died.
I think we must bear in mind that it was a very permissive society in which Valentine lived,” says Father O’Gara. “Polygamy would have been much more popular than just one woman and one man living together. And yet some of them seemed to be attracted to Christian faith. But obviously the church thought that marriage was very sacred between one man and one woman for their life and that it was to be encouraged. And so it immediately presented the problem to the Christian church of what to do about this.
The idea of encouraging them to marry within the Christian church was what Valentine was about. And he secretly married them because of the edict.”
Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing marriage ceremonies against command of Emperor Claudius the second. There are legends surrounding Valentine’s actions while in prison.
One of the men who was to judge him in line with the Roman law at the time was a man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind. He was supposed to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became Christian as a result.
In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation all because of his stand for Christian marriage. The story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to Asterius’ daughter. He inspired today’s romantic missives by signing it, “from your Valentine.”
What Valentine means to me as a priest, explains Father O’Gara, “is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that —even to the point of death.”
Valentine’s martyrdom has not gone unnoticed by the general public. In fact, Whitefriars Street Church is one of three churches that claim to house the remains of Valentine. Today, many people make the pilgrimage to the church to honour the courage and memory of this Christian saint.