On 14 February, around the year 270, a Roman priest called Valentine was stoned and beheaded. In 496, Pope Gelasius marked 14 February as St. Valentine’s Day in dedication of his martyrdom.
For centuries, St. Valentine has been associated with romance, love and devotion. Yet little is known about his life – it is not even clear whether he was one person, or two.
Here are 10 facts about the man behind Valentine’s Day.
1. He was a 3rd century Roman clergyman
By most accounts, St. Valentine was a clergyman – either a priest or bishop – in the 3rd century Roman Empire.
Around 270, he was martyred during a general persecution of Christians. According to the ‘Nuremberg Chronicle’ of 1493, he was beaten with clubs and finally beheaded for aiding Christians in Rome.
‘The Golden Legend’ of 1260 claimed St. Valentine refused to deny Christ before the emperor Claudius II Gothicus (214-270) and was executed outside the Flaminian Gate as a result.
His martyrdom on 14 February became his Saints’ Day, which has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine’s Day).
2. He had the power of healing
One popular legend describes St. Valentine as a former bishop of Terni, in central Italy. While under house arrest by the judge Asterius, the two men discussed their respective faiths.
Asterius brought his adopted blind daughter to St. Valentine, and asked him to help her see again. Valentine, praying to God, laid his hands on her eyes and the child regained her sight.
Immediately humbled, the judge converted to Christianity, became baptised, and released all his Christian prisoners – including Valentine.
As a result, Valentine became the patron saint of – among other things – healing.
3. “From Your Valentine” originates from a letter of his
Years after his release, Valentine was arrested once again for evangelising and sent to Claudius II. The emperor was said to have taken a liking to him, until Valentine tried to persuade him to embrace Christianity.
Claudius refused and condemned the clergyman to death, commanding that Valentine either renounce his faith or face death.
On the day of his execution, he wrote a note to Asterius’ daughter – the child he had healed from blindness and befriended.
According to legend, he signed the letter “from your Valentine”.
4. His skull is on display in Rome
According to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Valentine’s body was hastily buried at a cemetery near where he was killed before his disciples retrieved his body and returned him home.
In the early 19th century, the excavation of a catacomb near Rome produced the skeletal remains and other relics now associated with St. Valentine.
As per tradition, these remains were distributed to reliquaries around the world.
His skull, adorned with flowers, is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosemedin, Rome, and other parts of his skeleton can be viewed in England, Scotland, France, Ireland and the Czech Republic.
5. His blood was gifted by Pope Gregory XVI
In 1836, the Carmelite priest John Spratt received a gift from Pope Gregory XVI (1765-1846) containing a “small vessel tinged” with St. Valentine’s blood.
The gift was taken to Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, where it remains. The church continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially for those seeking love on St. Valentine’s Day.
6. He is the patron saint of epilepsy
St. Valentine’s holy duties are not limited to interceding in loving couples and marriages. He is also the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, plague, fainting and travelling.
7. He may have been two different people
St. Valentine’s identity was questioned as early as 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who referred to him and his acts as “being known only to God.”
The ‘Catholic Encyclopaedia’ and other hagiographical sources describe three separate St. Valentines that appear in connection with 14 February.
One 15th century account describes Valentine as a temple priest who was beheaded near Rome for helping Christian couples marry. Another account says he was the Bishop of Terni, also martyred by Claudius II.
Despite the similarities of these two stories, enough confusion surrounded his identity that the Catholic Church discontinued liturgical veneration of him in 1969.
His name, however, remains on its list of officially recognised saints.
8. There are actually many St. Valentines
The name “Valentinus” – from the Latin word valens, meaning strong, worthy and powerful – was popular in Late Antiquity.
Around 11 other saints of the name Valentine, or a variation thereof, are commemorated in the Roman Catholic Church.
The most recently beautified Valentine was St. Valentine Berrio-Ochoa from Ellorio, Spain, who served as bishop in Vietnam until he was beheaded in 1861.
There was even a Pope Valentine, who ruled for two months in 827.
The saint we celebrate on Valentine’s Day is officially known as St. Valentine of Rome, to differentiate him from the other St. Valentines.
9. His association with love began in the Middle Ages
St. Valentine’s Saint Day has been associated with the tradition of courtly love since the Middle Ages.
At the time, it was believed that birds paired in mid-February. Throughout the period, 14 February is mentioned as a day that brought lovers together, most poetically as “the birds and the bees”.
According to the 18th century historians Alban Butler and Francis Douce, Valentine’s Day was most likely created to overpower the pagan holiday, Lupercalia.
10. Valentine’s Day may have been an invention by Chaucer
No solid evidence exists of the romantic celebrations on 14 February prior to Chaucer’s ‘Parlement of Foules’, written in 1375.
In his poem, Chaucer linked a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Feast Day, when birds – and humans – came together to find a mate.
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate
By the 1400s nobles inspired by Chaucer were writing poems known as “valentines” to their love interests.