February 14th is known across the world as the festival of romance. Saint Valentine is often referred to as the patron saint of flower sellers and greetings card merchants, but how much do you know about the man?
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The historical record
The truth is that the historical record is somewhat scarce and the origins of the holiday are the subject of much academic debate. Some people believe that the holiday of Valentine's Day was created to replace a pagan holiday and was simply an opportunistic attempt to Christianize a pre-existing festival. Others think that the connection to love comes from the writings of Chaucer, a famous English poet who wrote extensively about love and courtly relationships. A third theory is that people in the Middle Ages believed that birds chose their mates in the middle of February, and this belief led to the celebration of Valentine's Day.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the holiday, we do know certain facts about Valentine himself. He was a priest who ministered to persecuted Christians in Rome and was eventually martyred for his faith. The relics of Valentine were eventually distributed throughout various locations in Rome, and some of them made their way to Dublin, where they can still be found today and are often the subject of pilgrimage for those seeking love.
The embellished legend
According to legend, Valentine was under house arrest and was discussing his faith with a judge named Asterius. The judge challenged the saint to restore the sight of his blind adopted daughter, and to the judge's amazement, Valentine was able to cure her with the touch of his hands. The judge was so moved by this miracle that he converted to Christianity and released all the Christians who were under his authority, including Valentine. The saint continued to evangelize and spread the teachings of Christianity, and he was eventually brought before the Emperor himself to answer for his actions. When Valentine tried to convert the Emperor, he was ordered to be beaten and beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.
There are also stories that suggest Valentine was a kind and loving person who was willing to help others. It is said that he secretly married Christian couples when it was illegal to do so, and this act of defiance may have contributed to his eventual martyrdom. Some people believe that these stories were later added to the legend of Valentine in order to retrofit the holiday onto the man and emphasize his role as a symbol of love and devotion.
It further complicates matters that there seems to be three Valentines connected to the day of the 14th of February. The Bishop of Interamna was also buried on the Via Flaminia outside Rome while a further Valentine was martyred on the same day in the Roman provinces of Africa.
How we celebrate
Despite the lack of clear information about Valentine's life, he is still remembered and celebrated today as a symbol of love and devotion. His feast day is observed on February 14th, and it is marked by the exchange of cards, flowers, and other gifts between loved ones. There is a challenge in modern times for people who are single to attempt to survive a day of very public displays of affection and we are at hand to provide a survival guide to get through the most agonising day of the year. Although the exact origins of the holiday remain a mystery, it is clear that Valentine's legacy has endured for centuries and will continue to be celebrated for many more to come.
The Bulldogz guide to surviving Valentine's day can be found here.
Our study worksheet on Saint Valentine's is available to download here
The Need to Know episode on Saint Valentine is available on Youtube and Spotify: