Patronage: beekeepers; betrothed couples; epilepsy; fainting; greetings; happy marriages; love and lovers; plague; travelers; young people
Name Meaning: Valor
Also known as: Valentine of Terni, Valentine of Rome
Little is known about the real Valentine. In fact, many early martyrologies listed two and sometimes three Valentines: a priest in Rome, a bishop in Interamna (now Terni) and a third in Africa. Most scholars now presume that all three Valentines are the same man. Most probably, Valentine either lived in Rome or was called from Terni to Rome as a consequence of his giving comfort to the martyrs under Emperor Claudius II, known as the Cruel. Imprisoned, Valentine, also a physician, reportedly converted his jailer to Christianity by restoring the eyesight of the jailer’s daughter. Brought before the Roman prefect, Valentine refused to renounce his faith and was beaten and beheaded on February 14. On the morning of his execution, he supposedly sent a farewell message to the jailer’s daughter, signed “from your Valentine.” His body was buried on the Flaminian Way in Rome, and his relics were taken to the church of St. Praxedes.
Another legend about Valentine has the priest surreptitiously marrying Roman couples when Claudius II, frustrated at his difficulty in taking men from their homes to be soldiers, outlawed marriage. In this version, Valentine languishes and dies in prison on the emperor’s orders but is not executed. Such stories that Valentine helped lovers and that he sent loving messages have connected the saint with romance. Other sources of the connection between Valentine’s date of martyrdom and love stem from early Roman festivals, such as the Lupercalia, that involved young noblemen running through the streets with thongs made from the skins of sacrificed goats. They lashed young women, which was believed to improve their chances at childbearing. The thongs were called februa, and the lashing februatio, from a Latin word meaning “to purify,” the same root as February. In other celebrations, Roman men drew names of available young ladies out of a box and promised to love them at least until the festival next year.
In England, both men and young women put their names into the box and were drawn in pairs. Each couple exchanged gifts, and the man wore his love’s name on his sleeve. Perhaps more significant to love and February is that birds choose mates around February 14, a fact noted by Chaucer. The custom of giving flowers for Valentine’s Day supposedly began with a daughter of King Henry IV of France, who threw a party to honor the saint and gave every lady present a bouquet.