Good morning to you, valentine;
Curl your locks as I do mine --
Two before and three behind.
Good morning to you, valentine.

St Valentine

Last Tuesday, the 14th February, was St Valentine’s Day when lovers who remember will exchange gifts and romantic cards plighting their troth etc etc and lovers who don’t will exchange apologies and excuses.

There were lots of Saint Valentines – 14 according to some sources and all martyred!- but most authorities, including the Catholic Church, have settled on Valentinus who lived in Rome around 200 AD as the saint behind the annual smooching. This was a period in Roman history when Christians faced relentless persecution and Valentinus was accused not only of being a Christian, but of helping other Christians to escape and marrying Christian couples. This last activity particularly upset the Emperor Claudius. He was trying to raise an army and believing that married men made bad soldiers he had banned marriage… and here was Valentinus secretly marrying people. Mistake No. 1.

claudius roman emperor

Valentinus was tried by the prefect of Rome but he refused to renounce his faith. Emperor Claudius, who was a bit of a brute himself, rather admired Valentinus’s resolve and was prepared to release him had not the man made the second mistake of trying to convert him to Christianity. Deeply offended the Emperor commanded Valentinus to be beaten with clubs and stoned to death. When this failed to kill him Valentinus was then beheaded. The execution took place on the 14th February 269 (or 270, or 273 depending upon which source you read) outside the Flaminian Gate in Rome. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius ordered that February 14th be marked in celebration of Valentinus’s martyrdom. He is now best remembered as being the patron saint of lovers and engaged couples but he also keeps a watching eye on bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, plague, travellers, and young people.

Valentine Victoriana

Although it is difficult to substantiate the legend of Saint Valentine there is some evidence that he actually existed. Pope Julius I is said to have built a church near Ponte Mole to his memory, which for a long time gave name to the gate now called Porta del Popolo, formerly, Porta Valetini. A catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to his name have also been excavated by archaeologists.

All saints are expected to perform miracles and St Valentine is no exception to this. One legend says that while he was awaiting his execution he restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter who had spent a lot of time in his cell talking to him. Another legend says when he was taken away for execution he left the jailer’s daughter a note signed, “From your Valentine”. This note was supposedly the inspiration for the Valentine cards of today.

Valentine Card

“Once she realises that I’ve forgotten.
She will persecute me something rotten
So to Cutters I must run
Before she gets back home at one
A chocolate orange and a card will do fine
To prove that she’s my Valentine.”

The Saint Valentine who is celebrated on February 14 remains in the Catholic Church’s official list of saints (the Roman Martyrology), but, in view of the scarcity of information about him, his commemoration was removed from the General Calendar for universal liturgical veneration, when this was revised in 1969.

— from Martyn Day