Who’s Saint Valentine?

By Modesto P. Sa-onoy

Today, across the mainly Christian world is celebrated St. Valentine’s Day. Cards, candy, flowers and gifts are given today among loved ones, parents and children and friends all in the name of love. But, while love is celebrated in his name, he is not so well known as a righteous man, pleasing to God. He is in fact celebrated albeit unconsciously, in a paganistic and commercialized and even in indecent ways.

Who then is this mysterious saint whose name is well known and whose feast is anticipated by lovers and opportunist? Where did this tradition come from and how did it catch the attention of the world and distracted so many from their daily task?

There are three saints among the list of holy persons in Catholic Church with the Roman name, Valentinus, who were all martyrs. One story claimed that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Valentine defied the order of Emperor Claudius II who decreed that young men should not marry because single male made good soldiers. They have no wife or family to worry about. Valentine continued to perform marriages and was put to death.

Others contend that the day is dedicated to St. Valentine, the bishop of Terni who was also beheaded by Claudius II. The Liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, however, has St. Valentine, a bishop who was martyred under the reign of Emperor Aurelius in A.D. 270. Some records say he was executed the following year or a year or two more.

No matter, St. Valentine is not a legend but a real person who lived in those difficult times when martyrdom was the lot of many followers of Christ. His remains were later discovered and now rest in Ireland. Some of his relics, however, are kept in several churches in Europe.

He is patron saint of love, young people, happy marriages, fainting and epilepsy. A rather unrelated mix of patronages, but that’s how it is. Perhaps people in love are in an epileptic state or faint on the sight or acceptance of a beloved. St. Valentine is also the patron saint of affianced couples, beekeepers, engaged couples, greetings, lovers and travelers. He is represented in pictures attired in a bishop’s red vestments with birds and roses.

Some claim that the cult to St. Valentine was instituted by the Church to “Christianize” the pagan feast of Lupercalia. This version created legends and myths that run counter to Church records. It was the 5th century Pope Gelasius who declared Valentine a saint. It might just have happened that St. Valentine’s death fell right on the mating season of birds and the February 15 pagan celebration of Lupercalia, the Roman god of fertility, a coincidence that gave St. Valentine a popularity to the delight of the modern world.

The Lupercalia ceremony survived the earlier years of Christianity but was later outlawed. It had nothing to do with St. Valentine until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love.

During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that St. Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer who had travelled much writing down the tales of the countryside, was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules”. He wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

It is claimed that the Valentine’s Day celebration began with Valentine greetings as far back as the Middle Ages, however written Valentine greetings began to appear only after 1400. The oldest known Valentine  message still in existence was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. It is kept in the manuscript collection of the British Library in London. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a Valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Popular events are usually embellished through the years because of its commercialization. The more mysteries are told, the faster the sales.