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Nine Things You Might Not Know About St Valentine

Around this time of year, it's hard to escape Valentine's Day.

The shops filled up with cards and heart-shaped gifts as soon as January arrived, and the radio stations played love-themed songs on rotation.

But what are the origins of the day—and what do we know about Valentine himself?

The honest answer is "not that much"—but there are plenty of myths and legends to ponder, themes to consider and a few wacky things to hear about.

So here we are with seven things you might not know about St Valentine.

1. St Valentine was a historical figure

St. Valentine was a Roman priest who lived in the third century during the reign of Emperor Claudius II—dating him to around 270 AD.

The only other thing we know with certainty is the date of his death which—you will not be surprised to learn was February 14th.

2. There were other saints called Valentine.

At least two other saints named Valentine are recognised and honoured by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Saint Valentine of Terni was a bishop of Interamna believed to have been martyred during the reign of Emperor Aurelian in the third century. There was also a Saint Valentine of Africa who lived in North Africa.

Whilst each of these Valentines had a distinct life and legacy, their stories may have become conflated or confused over time.

3. He was allegedly persecuted for performing weddings

According to historical records, St. Valentine was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II for secretly marrying Christian couples. This act was considered illegal then, as Claudius believed that unmarried men made better soldiers.

This story of St. Valentine’s bravery and selflessness in the face of persecution and his commitment to love and marriage made him a symbol of romantic love in the centuries following his death.

4. St Valentine was something of a romantic

In addition to the scant historical detail, various legends and stories have also grown around St. Valentine.

One popular legend states that while in prison, St. Valentine was visited by a young girl who brought him food and supplies. It is said that the two developed a close friendship and that St. Valentine wrote her a letter before his execution, signing it "From your Valentine."

This letter is considered the first recorded example of Valentine's Day greetings.

5. St Valentine may have been a doctor

Several legends state that St. Valentine was a physician who used his medical skills to help Christian prisoners and performed miracles.

It was said that he could heal the blind daughter of his jailer and that this act of kindness converted the jailer and his family to Christianity.

6. St Valentine was martyred

Despite persecution and imprisonment, Valentine refused to change his beliefs and was executed by Claudius.

Saint Valentine is said to have been buried on the Via Flaminia, a major road in ancient Rome, and a church was built over his tomb in the 4th century. This site is now the location of The Basilica of Saint Praxedes in Rome.

Several other sites worldwide claim to have portions of St Valentine's relics. When I visited Dublin a few years ago, I saw the altar shrine at White Friar Street Church, which is said to contain part of St Valentine’s skull.

7. St Valentine came to represent love in its many forms

Initially celebrated as a religious observance, it was during the medieval period that the holiday began to be associated with romantic love and affection.

This was partly due to the influence of courtly love and chivalric traditions, which emphasised romantic love and devotion. Poets and authors such as Chaucer and Shakespeare helped to popularise these ideas and to associate them with Saint Valentine's Day.

Over time, the holiday evolved into the celebration of love and affection today, marked by exchanging cards, flowers, and gifts between partners, friends, and loved ones.

While the holiday retains some religious elements, particularly in Catholic countries, it has primarily become secularised and is widely celebrated worldwide, regardless of religious affiliation.

8. St Valentine's is now celebrated around the world

Most of us are familiar with the traditions of cards, flowers and hearts in America and most western countries, but the day is celebrated in different ways worldwide.

For example, in Japan, women give chocolates to men on Valentine's Day as a symbol of their affection. In South Korea, Valentine's Day is also celebrated among friends and family members, and people exchange gifts with those close to them as a symbol of their love and affection.

In Brazil, Valentine's Day is celebrated with large parties and dances, and couples often exchange gifts— and in Ethiopia, the holiday of "Lupercalia" is celebrated on February 14th and involves the singing of love songs.

These are just a few examples of how Valentine's Day is celebrated in different cultures worldwide. The common thread is that the day remains a time to show love and appreciation for those who matter most to us.

9. Christians can find meaning in St Valentine’s Day

Christians can use Valentine's Day to think about ways to serve others and show God's love to those around them. This might involve acts of kindness and service, such as volunteering at a local charity or helping a neighbour in need.

It is also essential for Christians to remember that true love involves sacrifice and putting others first, just as Jesus did. As the Bible says in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

On Valentine's Day, Christians can strive to embody selfless love in their relationships and interactions with others.

Prayer for Today

Father, in the life and legacy of St. Valentine, we see a shining example of love and compassion. We ask that you inspire us to follow his example and to find ways to show love and kindness to those around us.

Help us to embody the qualities of love that St. Valentine lived and died for - patience, sacrifice, and the desire to bring joy to those in need.

Bless our relationships, especially those that may be struggling, and may our love for each other be built on the foundation of your love for us. May we reach out to those who are alone and bring the comfort of your love into their lives.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


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