Article of the Day: The Tragedy of St. Valentine

Who was Saint Valentine?

The martyrdom of St. Valentine

The details when it comes to Saint Valentine are sketchy. Some say he was a priest from Rome who lived in the third century AD.

The story goes that Emperor Claudius II had banned marriages, believing married men made bad soldiers. Saint Valentine is thought to have felt this was an unfair notion and arranged marriages in secret. When Claudius found out, Valentine was thrown in jail and given a death sentence.

In prison, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and when he was taken to be killed on February 14 he sent her a love letter signed “from your Valentine”.

Theories about Valentine’s Day

It was suggested by English 18th-century antiquarians Alban Butler and Francis Douce (noting the obscurity of Saint Valentine’s identity), that Valentine’s Day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, celebrated annually on February 15. The festival also officially marked the start of their springtime.

It’s thought that as part of the celebrations, boys would draw the names of girls from a box. From then, they’d be partnered during the festival and sometimes go on to get married. Pope Gelasius I then recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day around the year 496, declaring February 14 to be Saint Valentine’s Day.

This idea has lately been dismissed by other researchers, such as Professor Jack B. Oruch of the University of Kansas, Henry Ansgar Kelly of the University of California, Los Angeles and Associate Professor Michael Matthew Kaylor of the Masaryk University.

Many of the current legends that characterize Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer…

Skull of St. Valentine in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome

Many of the current legends that characterize Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love.

Oruch charges that the traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day”, documented in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, did not exist before Chaucer. He argues that the speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-century antiquaries, notably Alban Butler, the author of Butler’s Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. In the French 14th-century manuscript illumination from a Vies des Saints , Saint Valentine, bishop of Terni, oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni; there is no suggestion here that the bishop was a patron of lovers.

During the Middle Ages, it was believed that birds paired in mid-February. This was then associated with the romance of Valentine.

Although all these legends may differ in ways, Valentine’s day is widely recognized as a day for romance and devotion. And even if it is only based on an inspired thought by a mischievous medieval writer, you can still say: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Staff Reporter



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