St. Valentine (3rd century), Roman priest and martyr
St. Valentine was a holy priest who lived in Rome. Along with St. Marius and his family, he helped the martyrs to die a good and holy death during the persecution of Claudius II (268-270). He gave the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Extreme Unction to help them on their journey to Heaven. In the picture depicted above, St. Valentine is baptizing St. Lucilla (also known as Julia). She was a noblewoman blind from birth who was miraculously cured by St. Valentine. St. Valentine was well known for also helping the poor and the sick.
DEFENSE BEFORE THE EMPEROR
While he was performing these sacred duties of charity, the Roman soldiers discovered him. But because St. Valentine was admired by all the people – even the Emperor – for his virtue and wisdom, he was not put to death at once. The Emperor himself sent for him and welcomed him kindly. He invited Valentine to sit down beside him. Then Emperor Claudius II asked the Saint, “Why did such a wise man as you lower yourself to join a religion that is favored by the slaves and common rabble? Why accept a religion that betrays your homeland and goes against the gods of Rome?”
“Your Majesty,” answered Valentine gently, “if you knew the God I adore, you too would hate the religion that makes you worship devils. You would be proud to adore the one and only true God, the Creator of Heaven and earth. Only He can make you and all your people truly happy.”
The Emperor was intrigued and wanted to know more about the Christian religion. St. Valentine answered all of his questions with great wisdom.
The Senators and nobles of the court became angry. They did not like to see their Emperor interested in the religion of the Christians. The Emperor saw that they were very angry. He became fearful. He thought more about pleasing men than pleasing God. Giving in to human respect, much like Pontius Pilate centuries before him, he ‘washed his hands of the matter’ and turned the Saint over to lower authorities. The local governor judged him guilty of treason and commanded that he be executed. He was beaten with clubs in order to torture him and at last when his strength was nearly expired, he was beheaded. He died and entered into heaven on 14 February 270.
This is how St. Valentine provided a wonderful explanation and defense of the faith (an apologia), but his witness was made perfect as he suffered martyrdom for his beloved Lord Jesus.
The name "Valentine" comes from the root word for "valor" which is a fitting name for a Christian martyr. In those days, it was also a common name for men.
Pope Julius I built a church in his honor near the gate of a city. For many years the gate also bore the name of St. Valentine, though now it is called Porta del Popolo. His relics became a site for many pilgrims during the middle ages. Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292) transferred the greatest portion of his relics to the church of St. Praxedes. St. Valentine's flower-crowned skull is kept at Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. His name was honored as an illustrious martyr in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory the Great and all other extant martyrologies.
PRAYER FROM THE LITURGY
Antiphon. This saint fought even unto death, for the law of his God, and feared not the words of the wicked; for he was set upon a firm rock.
Let us pray. Grant, we beseech thee, O almighty God, that we who solemnize the festival of blessed Valentine, Thy martyr, may by his intercession, be delivered from all the evils that threaten us. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
WHERE DID SECULAR CUSTOMS SURROUNDING VALENTINES DAY COME FROM?
We can see how today our society has largely returned to practicing this custom as did the pagan Romans. We can help recover and restore the Faith to this day in various ways. (1) Honor and celebrate true charity of God and charity of neighbor, including pure chaste spousal love. (2) Imitate the virtues of St. Valentine, including the study and defense of our Faith. (3) Drawing the names of saints at random and making a commitment to get to know the saint drawn and to pray to that saint for the coming year. This is an especially wonderful devotion for families to practice.
OTHER LEGENDS THAT GAVE RISE TO VARIOUS CUSTOMS
Before his execution and while in jail, St. Valentine is said to have healed and baptized Lucilla Julia, the daughter of his jailer Asterius. She had been blind from birth. Asterius and his entire forty-four member household (including servants) were baptized and became Christians. The night before he was executed, the saint wrote a farewell letter to Asterius and his daughter. He signed it "Your Valentine."
Others add that Julia herself planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his gave. To this day, the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.
Another legend states that St. Valentine would perform clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. The Saint is said to have cut hearts from parchment and given them to these soldiers and other persecuted Christians to remind them of their vows and of God's love.
Some stories claim St. Valentine was a bishop, but this is not certain. Other sources claim he was a physician as well as a priest.
When Geoffrey Chaucer was writing his Canterbury Tales (~1475), this day was already associated with courtly love. In 18th century England, this feast became an occasion for men to give their beloved flowers and sweets and friends sent each other greeting cards (which came to be known as valentines).