First of all, who are you? I mean, sometimes I feel like I don’t know you — and it turns out that no one else does, either.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there are at least three Saint Valentines; other sources list more than a dozen. You could possibly be a Roman priest and physician martyred in the third century during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, or maybe you were the bishop of Terni, Italy, also martyred around the same time. Encyclopaedia Britannica says, “It is possible they are different developments of the same original account and refer only to one person.”
There’s a Saint Valentine of Genoa whose feast day is May 2, not February 14, which is yours; there are also Saint Valentines I tracked down whose feast days are observed on November 3 and January 7.
As long as we’re having this conversation, do you mind me asking why you’re even associated with romantic love, Valentine? Oh, I know there are lots of legends: Supposedly Emperor Claudius thought single men were better soldiers than married men. He needed troops, so allegedly he outlawed marriage for younger guys. The story is that you continued to secretly perform marriages for young couples, and when Claudius found out, he had you executed. Forgive me for pointing out that there’s no more historical evidence to support that than there is for Cupid having wings.
It was a couple of hundred years later when Pope Gelasius I established February 14 as Saint Valentine’s Day in AD 496. Maybe it’s unkind of me to mention that you were deleted from the Catholic Calendar of saint days in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, but, hey — by then your reputation was secure.
Geoffrey Chaucer had mentioned you in his Parlement of Foules back in 1382: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentine’s day/When every foul cometh there to chese his mate.” Chaucer was a terrible speller, but his poem associates you with the mating season of birds (foul = fowl).
An alternative explanation for your day being a lovers’ celebration — also without strong basis in fact — is that it originated as a Christian alternative to the Roman fertility festival of the Lupercalia, observed on the ides of February (2/15).
Whatever. For someone with a shadowy past, Valentine, you certainly have a lot of fans. I discovered that you are not only the Patron Saint of love, young people, and happy marriages, you also hold that honor for bee keepers, epilepsy, and plague. The Church didn’t grant you the title, but as far as I’m concerned, you should also be the Patron Saint of florists, candy makers, and greeting cards. A recent visit to the website of the Greeting Card Association turned up their estimate that “approximately 160 million greeting cards will be purchased for Valentine’s Day this year.”
By the way, one of those came in to the International Headquarters of Tom Reeder’s Blog the other day. There was a handwritten inscription on it, wishing us, “happy V.D.” I’m hoping the sender meant “Valentine’s Day”. The other meaning isn’t nearly as romantic.