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Saint Valentine


 

DW | Holy Saints


The Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church's official list of recognized saints, for February 14th gives only one Saint Valentine: a martyr who died on the Via Flaminia.

 


 

The Catholic Encyclopedia and other hagiographical sources speak of three Saints Valentine that appear in connection with February 14th. One was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna (modern Terni, Italy) both buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city. The third was said to be a saint who suffered on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman province of Africa, of whom nothing else is known.


Though the extant accounts of the martyrdoms of the first two listed saints are of a late date and contain legendary elements, "a common nucleus of fact" may underlie the two accounts and they may refer to "a single person". According to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna and while on a temporary stay in Rome he was imprisoned, tortured, and martyred there on February 14, 269. His body was hastily buried at a nearby cemetery and a few nights later his disciples retrieved his body and returned him home.


The Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church's official list of recognized saints, for February 14th gives only one Saint Valentine: a martyr who died on the Via Flaminia.

Legend states that St. Valentine of Rome, along with St. Marius, aided the Christian martyrs during the Claudian persecution. In addition to his other edicts against helping Christians, Claudius had also issued a decree forbidding marriage. In order to increase troops for his army, he forbade young men to marry, believing that single men made better soldiers than married men.


Valentine defied this decree and urged young lovers to come to him in secret so that he could join them in the sacrament of matrimony. The account mentions that in order "to remind these men of their vows and God’s love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment", giving them to these persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine's Day.


Eventually he was discovered by the Emperor, who promptly had Valentine arrested and brought before him. Because he was so impressed with the young priest, Claudius attempted to convert him to Roman paganism rather than execute him. However, Valentine held steadfast and in turn attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity, at which point the Emperor condemned him to death.


While in prison, Valentine was tended by the jailer, Asterius, and his blind daughter. Asterius' daughter was very kind to Valentine and brought him food and messages. They developed a friendship and toward the end of his imprisonment, Valentine was able to convert both father and daughter to Christianity. Legend has it that he also miraculously restored the sight of the jailer's daughter.


The night before his execution, the priest wrote a farewell message to the girl and signed it affectionately "From Your Valentine," a phrase that lives on even to this day. He was executed on February 14th, 269 AD in Rome. The Martyrology says, "At Rome, on the Flaminian Way, the heavenly birthday of the blessed martyr Valentine, a priest. After performing many miraculous cures and giving much wise counsel, he was beaten and beheaded under Claudius Caesar."


The church in which he is buried existed already in the fourth century and was the first sanctuary Roman pilgrims visited upon entering the Eternal City. February 14th has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine's Day) since at least the eighth century.


Relics of him were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which "remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV". His skull, crowned with flowers, is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome. Other relics of him are in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, Dublin, Ireland, a popular place of pilgrimage.


The valentine has become the universal symbol of friendship and affection shared each anniversary of the priest's execution—St. Valentine's Day.

 

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