Who Was Saint Valentine?

saint-valentineValentine’s Day is the second most popular holiday to send a card. The Greeting Card Association claims that an estimated one billion cards are sent each year. Yet, most of the people who send the cards have no idea who Saint Valentine was. Even historians cannot agree.

According to some authorities, there were two Valentines. One was a priest and doctor who was martyred in the year 269, and the other was the bishop of Terni, who was brought to Rome to be tortured and executed in 273. Others say it was the same person. Both men (or the same man) have legends attributed to them concerning love and matrimony, legends that may or may not be true.

According to one rendition, Roman Emperor Claudius II issued an edict saying that his soldiers were not allowed to be married. Apparently, Claudius thought that married soldiers weren’t as good as single soldiers. As you might imagine, this news was not well received among the military men. Valentine obviously disagreed with the edict and continued to marry young couples, even though Claudius forbade it. When Claudius found out, he ordered Valentine to be beheaded, and the sentence was soon carried out.

Whether the stories involve one man or two, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D.

Recognition of the holiday clearly had taken hold by the Middle Ages. At that time, it was believed that birds begin mating in the middle of February. Even Chaucer wrote in the fourteenth century, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day, whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Nonetheless, this martyred saint probably is responsible for the fact that many of us are alive and walking the earth today. Without the excuse of Saint Valentine’s Day, how many of our ancestors would never have courted and consequently never have married? How many of us would not have been born? Perhaps we all owe a debt of gratitude to Saint Valentine for our very existence.

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