The origins of Valentine’s Day are not clear but many sources believe that it stems from the story of St Valentine, a Roman priest who was martyred on or around February 14 in the year 270 CE. How he became the patron saint of lovers remains a mystery but one theory is that the church used the day of St Valentine’s martyrdom to Christianize the old Roman Lupercalia, a pagan festival held around the middle of February.
Valentine’s Day is also a time to appreciate friends in some social circles and cultures. For example, Valentine’s Day in Finland refers to “Friend’s day”, which is more about remembering all friends rather than focusing solely on romance. Valentine’s Day in Guatemala is known as Day of Love and Friendship). It is similar to Valentine’s Day customs and traditions countries such as the United States but it is also a time for many to show their appreciation for their friends.
Many people around the world celebrate Valentine’s Day by showing appreciation for the people they love or adore. Some people take their loved ones for a romantic dinner at a restaurant while others may choose this day to propose or get married. Many people give greeting cards, chocolates, jewelry or flowers, particularly roses, to their partners or admirers on Valentine’s Day.
Because of the abundance of St. Valentines on the Roman Catholic roster, you can choose to celebrate the saint multiple times each year. Besides February 14, you might decide to celebrate St. Valentine of Viterbo on November 3. Or maybe you want to get a jump on the traditional Valentine celebration by feting St. Valentine of Raetia on January 7. Women might choose to honor the only female St. Valentine (Valentina), a virgin martyred in Palestine on July 25, A.D. 308. The Eastern Orthodox Church officially celebrates St. Valentine twice, once as an elder of the church on July 6 and once as a martyr on July 30.
The medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer often took liberties with history, placing his poetic characters into fictitious historical contexts that he represented as real. No record exists of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to a poem Chaucer wrote around 1375. In his work “Parliament of Foules,” he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day–an association that didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention.
Saints are certainly expected to keep busy in the afterlife. Their holy duties include interceding in earthly affairs and entertaining petitions from living souls. In this respect, St. Valentine has wide-ranging spiritual responsibilities. People call on him to watch over the lives of lovers, of course, but also for interventions regarding beekeeping and epilepsy, as well as the plague, fainting and traveling. As you might expect, he’s also the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages.
The saint we celebrate on Valentine’s Day is known officially as St. Valentine of Rome in order to differentiate him from the dozen or so other Valentines on the list. Because “Valentinus”—from the Latin word for worthy, strong or powerful—was a popular moniker between the second and eighth centuries A.D.