3 Things You Might Not Know About St. Valentine

Here are three things about St. Valentine that you might not know.

David Teniers III, “St. Valentine Receiving the Rosary at the Hands of Our Lady,” 1677
David Teniers III, “St. Valentine Receiving the Rosary at the Hands of Our Lady,” 1677 (photo: Public Domain)

I’m completely in favor of Valentine’s Day. I think it’s a wonderful way to remind folks to share the love but letting those they care about know that they love them.

But I lament the way the “Saint” was dropped from the title.

Valentine’s Day used to be “St. Valentine’s Day,” before the chocolate manufacturers, florists and greeting card companies got hold of it. Don’t get me wrong — I think sending Valentines, ordering flowers and showing up with a heart-shaped box of chocolates (Ahem. Husband? Are you reading this?) is a marvelous way of showing our love and affection. Carry on, please, with my good wishes.

Just let’s not forget that this love-ly holiday is associated with a saint.

That said, I’ve discovered three things about St. Valentine that you might not know. In the spirit of this loving saint, I’m sharing them with you here.

1. There might be three saints named Valentine.

It’s quite possible that there actually are three St. Valentines, all with the same feast day — Feb. 14. The first St. Valentine was a physician-priest who lived in Rome in the third century. He joined with St. Marius in efforts to comfort the martyrs of the persecution of Christians by Emperor Claudius II. St. Valentine himself was arrested, beaten, condemned to death and beheaded for his beliefs on Feb. 14, A.D. 270. He was buried on the Flaminian Way and Pope Julius I later built a basilica over St. Valentine’s tomb. His relics were moved to the Church of St. Praxedes in the 13th century. It’s believed that this is the St. Valentine after which the day was named.

The second St. Valentine was Bishop of Interamna (present-day Terni, 60 miles outside of Rome). He, too, suffered under the persecution of Claudius II. He was arrested, scourged and beheaded. No more is known of him.

The third St. Valentine was martyred in Africa with several companions and that is all that’s known about him.

All three of these St. Valentines have one thing in common: Each died for the love of God.

2. The popular customs of displays of love and affection on St. Valentine’s Day date back to the Middle Ages.

At that time, it was commonly believed in England and France that birds began mating each year on Feb. 14. English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about this in his famous poem, “Parliament of Foules” (in Old English).

“For this was on Seynt Valentyne’s day. When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

And so, in addition to the saints’ behavior, the birds’ love-struck behavior added to the feast by giving it the dimension of a day for lovers.

3. His patronage and association with charity makes sense.

It makes sense that St. Valentine has been named the patron of lovers, engaged couples and happy marriages. But he also is the patron saint of young people and epilepsy.

I’m all in favor of the hearts, love notes, candies and floral bouquets that go hand-in-hand with Valentine’s Day. But I’m more in favor of allowing those loving gestures to represent the ultimate love — love of God – and the martyrdom of a courageous saint who gave his life rather than abandon his faith.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!