St. Valentine

While many people give candy, flowers and cards to each other on February 14, few know the connection between “Valentine’s Day” and the Catholic Church. Until the most recent revision of the Roman Calendar in 1969, February 14 was the Feast of St. Valentine. Little is known of the Saint except his name and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. It is even uncertain whether the feast celebrates only one saint or more saints of the same name. However, “Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome” remains in the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics.

The Feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” As Gelasius implied, nothing was known, even then, about the lives of any of these martyrs. The St. Valentine that appears in various martyrologies in connection with February 14 is described either as a priest in Rome, a bishop of Interamna, or a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

The first artistic representation of Saint Valentine appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle, (1493), one of the earliest printed books in the world. The text alongside a woodcut portrait of Valentine states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius (268-270). Once Valentine had been arrested and imprisoned, Claudius took a liking to the holy man. This friendship changed when Valentinus tried to convert Claudius, and the Emperor condemned him to death. Initially, he was beaten with clubs and stoned. When he didn’t immediately die, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate, and buried at the site.