St Valentine’s Day

ValentineSt. Valentine’s Day traditionally celebrates Romance and love and takes place annually on 14 February. Saint Valentine (in Latin, Valentinus) is the name of several martyred saints of ancient Rome. The name “Valentine”, derived from valens (worthy, strong, powerful), was popular in Late Antiquity. Saint Valentine was martyred and buried on the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. Born April 16, Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome” remains in the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine the Presbyter is celebrated on July 6, and Hieromartyr Saint Valentine (Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Italy) is celebrated on July 30. Notwithstanding that, conventionally, members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) celebrate their name on February 14.

The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” As Gelasius implied, nothing was known, even then, about the lives of any of these martyrs. The Saint Valentine that appears in various martyrologies in connection with Feb 14 and is described either as: A priest in Rome, A bishop of In Terrama (modern Terni), or A martyr in the Roman province of Africa. The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493); alongside the woodcut portrait of Valentine, the text states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. At first Claudius took rather a liking to Valentinus and gave him a chance to make amends and redeem himself. However he pushed his luck a bit too far when he tried to convert the Emperor to Christianity, whereupon he was condemned to death. First He was beaten with clubs then he was stoned (and not in a good way), then he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate (which was not particularly good for him either). Being beaten up, stoned and beheaded doesn’t sound particularly romantic to me, anyway….

In the Middle Ages, two Roman churches were dedicated to Saint Valentine. One was the tenth-century church Sancti Valentini de Balneo Miccine or de Piscina, which was rededicated by Pope Urban III in 1186. The other, on the Via Flaminia, was the ancient basilica S. Valentini extra Portam founded by Pope Julius I, though not under this dedication. Hagiographical sources also speak of a Roman priest and a bishop of Terni each buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city, with each venerated on February 14th. The basilica appellatur Valentini, “is called Valentine’s” This, the earlier and by far more important of the churches, is dedicated to the less prominent of the two saints, Valentine, presbyter of Rome. There is also the Basilica S. Valentini extra Portam, the “Basilica of Saint Valentine beyond the Gate” which was situated beyond the Porta Flaminia (the Porta del Popolo.

Many of the current legends that characterise 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. However there are those who say that the traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day”, documented in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, had no such tradition before Chaucer. In 1836, some remains that were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina, then near (rather than inside) Rome, were identified with St Valentine; placed in a casket, and transported to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, to which they were donated by Pope Gregory XVI. To this day Many tourists visit the saintly remains on St. Valentine’s Day, when the casket is carried in solemn procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and all those in love.

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