February 14th is St. Valentine’s day. Exactly who was this bugger and why do we care?
Officially, his full moniker is St. Valentine of Terni. Officially, he was the bishop of said town, although some sources say he was also the bishop of Narnia. No kidding. Really. Narnia. It’s now the Italian city of Narni, but back in old Rome it was Narnia. Also, officially, he was buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome on the day he was martyred. But he didn’t stay there long. He got dug up by some of his disciples a day or two later and hauled back to Terni to be buried again, for awhile.
I say for awhile, because, as Wikipedia says:
“St. Valentine’s remains are also believed to be in Dublin. In 1836, some relics that were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina… were identified with St Valentine; placed in a casket, and transported in a procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and all those in love.
“Also in 1836, Fr. John Spratt, an Irish priest and famous preacher, was given many tokens of esteem following a sermon in Rome. One gift from Pope Gregory XVI were the remains of St. Valentine and “a small vessel tinged with his blood.” The Reliquary was placed in Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, and has remained there until this day. This was accompanied by a letter claiming the relics were those of St. Valentine.”
How he got from Terni to the catacombs in Rome is anybody’s guess, along with how anybody could tell the body was his. Maybe he tunneled, burrowed his way. All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes.
He was supposedly beaten and beheaded on the 14th of February in the year 269CE, or maybe 270, or 273, opinions vary. The day remains consistent, despite the conflict of years; therefrom we get Valentine’s day.
I say supposedly beaten and beheaded because he is not in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, the Chronography of 354, and only pops up in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, which was compiled between 460 and 544. He must have gotten on the list before the final version, because he got his official feast day declared in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” I take this to mean that Pope Gelasius I hadn’t a clue as to who Valentine was or why he was put in that list of martyrs. The feast date is our modern St. Valentine’s day, of course.
St. Valentine is the patron saint of epilepsy, fainting, plague, bee keepers, betrothed couples and other lovers, chocolatiers, and greeting card companies. I threw the last two in for obvious reasons.
Nobody associated him with the last three until Chaucer showed up and wrote his Parliament of Fools, written sometime in the 14th century.
Now here’s where I go quasi on the whole St. Valentine thing, the man, the day, the whole shebang.
No one knew he existed until that list from the late 5th century, around two hundred years after he became a wandering corpse.
The Roman church was big on absconding with pagan stuff and re-branding it. Christmas, Easter, plopping cathedrals down on old pagan temple sites, swiping pagan gods and renaming them as Christian saints and martyrs, the list is near endless.
The old Roman pagans had a holiday they celebrated on the ides of February, the 15th of February. It was the Lupercalia and it honored the goddess Februata Juno, one of the many goddesses of sex and fertility.
There’s your start of it all: goddesses, sex, and fertility. ‘Nuff said. I rest my case.
First shared on the Squatcher’s Lounge Podcast:
For the reading impaired, an audio version of this quasi theory may be found here: