The Real History of Saint Valentine

Like if this Guide is helpful
The Real History of Saint Valentine

Love fills the air on Valentine's Day as men and women express their feelings for each other through flowers. As couples bask in the glow of the love they feel for one another, few of them spend time thinking about the history of the holiday or the man behind it. With limited information in the historical record and a wealth of legends, sorting through the fact and fiction about this saint often yields interesting results.


The real Valentine

Derived from the Latin word for strength and power, Valentine was a popular name for men in the Roman Empire. As a result, many of the early Christian church's martyrs carried the name so the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that Saint Valentine was a real person martyred by the Roman state. Although the Church still debates which Valentine is the real one, two likely candidates stand out.

Priest of Rome

One Valentine was a temple priest who, according to legend, defied the emperor Claudius II by secretly performing illegal wedding ceremonies. Claudius outlawed marriage between young people because he wanted to build his army with unmarried men whom he felt fought more aggressively than married men concerned about their families. Yet, Valentine believed so strongly in the sacrament of marriage that he willingly risked his life for it and was executed on the 14th of February.

Bishop of Terni

Another candidate is Valentine, the Bishop of Terni. While in Rome to share his faith with the pagans in the city, the emperor ordered him to stop. Valentine not only refused to end his work, he tried to convert the emperor himself, who then ordered his execution on the 14th of February. Local parishioners buried his body on the Via Flaminia, built basilicas in his honour, and stored his relics.

Valentine Legends

Legends without historical support include the story of a Valentine who refused to sacrifice to pagan gods and while waiting in prison for his execution prayed for the healing of the gaoler's daughter. He left for her a note signed "Your Valentine", creating the first valentine card. Yet another legend implies that Saint Valentine used pigeons as an illustration of love to a quarreling couple, inspiring the idea of lovebirds.


Valentine gets his day

Medieval Christians venerated Valentine, honouring him for his devotion to the faith, but by the time Pope Gelasius I instituted the annual feast of St. Valentine in February, few people remembered much about the man. Tradition holds that the Gelasius wanted to combine the pagan fertility rituals of Lupercalia with Christian themes as a way to convert the public, but the historical record says little to support or refute this idea.

From Lupercalia to courtly romance

Romans celebrated Lupercalia each year in the middle of February, but the festival was not popular outside the city of Rome, casting some doubt on whether Gelasius was genuinely worried about it. Saint Valentine's connection with romantic love appeared much later through the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare.

In fact, Chaucer is the first person to link Valentine's Day with the idea of romantic, courtly love in his poem, "Parliament of Foules". After this publication, the public's interest in romantic love and the process of courting and companies saw an opportunity to market their goods as gifts for lovers.


The controversy

The limited historical record with its mixture of legend distorts the modern view of Saint Valentine, but he remains part of the Roman Catholic Church's list of saints. Until 1955, the Catholic Church honoured the man as part of a simple feast and mentioned him in the liturgy until 1969.

That year, the Church removed the saint from the General Roman Calendar, but local churches have the option to continue their annual celebrations. They maintain their capillas featuring his statue and relics, and the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin exhibits Valentine's skull. Despite the lack of information about the real Valentine, his memory carries on through the people who continue to honour him.


How to buy Valentine's Day supplies on eBay

Shopping for Valentine's Day is easy on eBay, where you discover a variety of gifts to share with your loved ones. To find fun items like vintage valentines, specialty chocolates and candies, as well as heart and Cupid decorations for a theme party, enter key terms in the search box, adding details like colours and sizes to refine the results. Look for the items that catch your eye and fit your loved ones' tastes and personalities so you give them something that delights them.

Have something to share, create your own Guide... Write a Guide
Explore more Guides