Would the real St. Valentine please stand up?

February 14

Love and peace dude

Valentine #1:

Valentinus was born in Africa around 100 AD. He was schooled in Alexandria, and was taught by a disciple of St. Paul named Theodas.

Valentinus was a Gnostic Christian who taught that God could not be known directly and was neither masculine nor feminine but a combination of both.

The teachings of Valentinus directly contradicted Orthodox Christianity, but he garnered a large following when he moved to Rome around 135 AD.

“Valentinus, the Gnostic who almost became pope, was thus the only man who could have succeeded in gaining a form of permanent positive recognition for the Gnostic approach to the message of Christ.”

Stephan A. Hoeller, A Gnostic for All Season

Valentinus died around 170 AD. The Catholic Church (literally “universal” church) declared Valentinus’s teachings heretical and all its writings were destroyed. Everything we knew about Valentinian Theology came from his detractors until the Nag Hammadi scrolls, discovered in 1945, were translated in recent decades.

Valentine #2:

But it’s unlikely that the Catholic Church would declare a Saint a man whose teachings it deemed heretical. Another candidate for the real St. Valentine is:

Valentinus of Interamna (Turin), a bishop and martyr who miraculously healed the deformed son of Craton, a Greek rhetorician in Rome.

Valentine #3:

Encyclopedia Britannica acknowledges a third Valentinus, who was a Christian priest in Rome with miraculous healing powers. He was imprisoned for teaching Christianity. While in prison, the jailer, hearing of Valentinus’s abilities, asked if he could cure his daughter of blindness. Valentinus did so using a special crocus. According to legend, Valentinus and the jailer’s daughter fell in love, and the last note he left to her before his execution (on February 14 of course) was signed “From your Valentine.”

Valentine #4:

The most popular candidate may be #4, whose legend is often merged with #3. Both were said to be Christian priests in Rome and share the same date of execution, February 14, during the short reign of Emperor Claudius II. (268-270)

During Claudius’s reign, Rome was fighting enemies on all sides, and the Emperor was having a tough time restocking the army with fresh recruits. So he temporarily banned marriage, thinking men without families would be more likely to fight in the army.

Valentinus defied the Emperor by conducting wedding services for couples in secret. Valentinus was found out, and was tried and beheaded–like #3–on February 14, 270.

There’s no actual evidence #4 existed as a separate entity from #3. Long before any of the Valentinuses, Romans associated the middle of February with love between the sexes. They celebrated Juno Februata on February 14 and Lupercalia on February 15. As Valentinus’s Saint Day happened to fall right in the middle of the pagan celebrations, it replaced the festivals in name, though not in practice. Over the centuries Valentinus’s legend may have been “spiced up” to explain why we associate this Roman bishop with all things romance.

Love in the Time of V.D. (Valentine’s Day)

February 14

Between Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthdays in February comes another birthday, one that has been celebrated far longer than either President, but for a man whose life is all but unknown.

The awakening of spring has always been associated with the blossoming of love. In the Roman calendar February was the last month of the year, a time of purification before the new agrarian planting season.

Lupercalia commemorated the She-wolf that suckled the babies Romulus (founder of Rome) and his brother Remus in a cave on the site of the future capital. On February 15 each year a group of priests known as the Brotherhood of the Wolf, or Luperci, would strip to their birthday suits and sacrifice a dog and goat at the cave. Then they’d put on loincloths of the goat’s skin and go about the streets of Rome smacking women on their backsides with an animal skin lash, known as a februa (from the Latin februare, meaning “to purify”) in a ritual intended to promote fertility and ease the pangs of childbirth.

Romulus, Remus, & Ma Wolf
Romulus, Remus, & Mama Wolf

The Romans celebrated another festival in mid-February: Juno Februata. On the 14th of February eligible young men and women would participate in Roman Spin-the-Bottle. Boys would draw the names of eligible girls and ‘couple up’ during the festivities, sometimes for the entire year.

Around 496 AD Pope Gelasius banned the old pagan rituals and introduced the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin on February 14, which was later moved to February 2. The Church tried to replace to earlier rituals by having boys and girls draw the names of a saint and emulate the life of that saint. For whatever reason, that zany tradition never caught on with the same vigor as the Roman one.

Some scholars say that St. Valentine’s Day was a minor feast with no connection to romance or couples up until the 14th century. It was then that writers such as Chaucer and his contemporaries began referring to it as the day that birds chose their mates.

Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer wrote “The Parliament of Fowls”—referring to birds, not the English governing body—in tribute to Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia in 1381.

”[it] was on seynt Volantynys day
When euery byrd comyth there to chese his make.”
(It was sent on Saint Valentine’s Day,
When every bird comes there to choose his mate…)

It was a common writing device for poets to link certain events with the saint whose feast was observed that day. However the Valentine Chaucer referred to was the one whose feast was celebrated on May 3, for May 3 was the date of the King’s engagement. Chaucer describes conditions common to late Spring. (Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine.)

The marriage of the royal 16 year-olds Anne and Richard was one based in love rather than politics. It ended with Anne’s death from plague 12 years later. Richard was never the same after her death, and was deposed and killed in 1400…on February 14.

Nearly a dozen ‘Valentines’ were canonized in the first centuries of the Christian Church, and to this day no one really knows which one we celebrate on February 14. (Would the Real Saint Valentine Please Stand Up)

Saint Valentine
St. Valentine

[Others say Valentine’s origin is a case of semantics. That Valentine comes from the Norman-French term galantin, meaning something like “woman-lover” in a chivalrous sense. It’s where we get the words “gallant” and “gallantry”.]