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Do you know the history of Saint Valentine's Day?

Love endures all things . . and never fails. St. Valentine’s Day is February 14.

St. Valentine’s Day is February 14th.

Do you know the story behind this holiday?

St. Valentine of Rome, a martyr, was a priest or possibly a bishop in 3rd century Rome. Some sources list St. Valentine of Rome and St. Valentine of Terni as separate men, but most scholars believe them to have been the same person. Little is known about the history of St. Valentine, but he is believed to have been a physician, imprisoned for giving aid to jailed martyrs. However, as with many of the early martyrs, little is known aside from his name, Valentinus; that he was killed for the Faith; and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome. He was beaten and beheaded around the year 269 A.D. Valentine’s name and feast on the 14th of February was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who named Valentine among those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.

There are several legends about St. Valentine, but as Pope Gelasius I indicated, his actual acts cannot be known. The most well-known legend of the saint’s life is also sometimes cited as the basis for the later card-sending tradition.

According to legend, Valentine, along with St. Marius, aided the Christian martyrs during the Claudian persecution. In addition to his other edicts against helping Christians, Claudius had also issued a decree forbidding marriage. Valentine, a priest or a bishop, defied this decree and he urged young lovers to come to him in secret so that he could join them in the sacrament of matrimony. When Valentine was discovered, he was arrested, but the emperor first attempted to convert Valentine to Roman paganism rather than execute him.

Of course, Valentine remained steadfast in his faith, and even tried to convert Emperor Claudius to Christianity, and so the emperor then condemned him to death. In the time before Valentine was executed, he was tended by the jailer, Asterius, and his blind daughter, who was very kind to Valentine and brought him food and messages. The legend states that Valentine became friends with and converted both Asterius and his daughter, and miraculously restored the girl’s sight.

The History of Saint Valentine’s Day

The romantic nature of February 14 seems to have been attached to the date long after it was recognized as the feast day of St. Valentine. Still, several centuries before pre-printed, mass-produced greeting cards existed, men and women sent notes, tokens, and cards to their loves on St. Valentine’s Day. The tradition certainly was in place by the late 15th century, with French and English literature indicating the practice dated at least to the 14th century. However it is less certain exactly how St. Valentine’s Day came to be recognized as the romantic holiday it is today. There are multiple ideas on how the custom evolved.

The legend that describes St. Valentine’s imprisonment mentions a letter he sent to the Jailer Asterius’s daughter on the eve before he was executed. According to the legend, the farewell message was affectionately signed “From Your Valentine,” a phrase now popular on Valentine greeting cards everywhere.

One aspect is referenced in the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. It was a popular belief in the middle ages that birds would choose their mates mid-way through the second month of the year – the 14th of February – and that day was seen as consecrated to lovers. In Chaucer’s 14th century poem Parliament of Fowls is the line “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day, Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” This is often recognized as the earliest known written reference to the sending of notes to a loved one on St. Valentine’s Day.

Some years later, the reference to Valentine’s Day and birds was mentioned again in one of the Paston Letters (a collection of letters and other papers exchanged among members of the gentry Paston family and their acquaintances between 1422 and 1509):

And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine’s Day and every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.

– excerpted from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia and Catholic Forum’s Patron Saint Index

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“God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: “And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”
Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
– from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1604, 1605

“Love”

“Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never fails.”

– St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 13:4

A Simple Prayer to Saint Valentine

Dear Saint and glorious martyr, teach us to love unselfishly and to find great joy in giving. Enable all true lovers to bring out the best in each other. Let them love each other in God and in God each other. Amen.
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