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Who was St Valentine?

Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) by Michel Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff
Patron saint of love, young people, happy marriages, bee keepers and against epilepsy, fainting and plague.

THERE ARE many stories about the origins of St Valentine.

In reality Valentine was probably the name of several martyred saints.

The most common story is one of a Roman priest who assisted those under persecution from Claudius II (Roman Emperor from 268-270) and was caught marrying couples.

Claudius II had apparently outlawed marriage as he thought single men made better soldiers.

Valentine was said to have been beheaded on 14 February around the year 270.

One legend says that while awaiting execution, Valentine restored the sight of the jailer’s blind daughter.

Another says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine”.

Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine.

It is also suggested that Pope Gelasius declared 14 February as St Valentine’s Day around the year 498 as the middle of February lined up with the ancient Roman official beginning of Spring.

The Roman festival of Lupercalia was already held on 15 February as a celebration of purification and fertility.

It is suggested that the church lined up the two festivals as they did with many other festivals.

One ritual was for young women to place their names in a large urn and for young men to pull out a name.

This match-making tradition appeared again in the Middle Ages when young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentine would be.

They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week arguably giving meaning to the phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve”.

It is said the oldest known Valentine in existence was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. The poem is held in the British Library in London.

According to the Greeting Card Association in the US around 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are purchased each year, making it the second most popular seasonal card after Christmas cards.

Photo : Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) by Michel Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff