Shrouded in mystery, St Valentine was described by pope Gelasius as among those -"whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are know only to God" at the dedication of the Feast of St. Valentine in 496AD.
Today those words are still true.
There are three notable St. Valentines in history that may have been the Valentines we celebrate today. The first was martyred in a Roman province of Africa and not much else is known. The second was St. Valentines of Terni, a bishop from about 197ad. The third was St. Valentines of Rome who was martyred around 270ad.
Of these three, the only solid reference is to the third one, St. Valentine of Rome, and is likely the one we derive our modern day celebrate from. The reference to this St. Valentine comes from an ancient text called the Nuremberg Chronicle where alongside the woodcut portrait of Valentine, it is written that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. The Emperor Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. (source)
At the time of Claudius II in Rome it was not only illegal to aid Christians, but according to a quote by Father Frank O'Gara on cbn.com it was even illegal to marry young people as it was thought that unmarried soldiers fought better than those who had loved ones at home to worry about.
|Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)|
The Nuremberg Chronicle (which give details of our a most likely St. Valentines) was written in 1493 nearly 1000 years after the dedication of the St Valentines Feast where pope Gelasius stated the words "whose acts are know only to God". These words make it one ask the question, if so little was know about Valentines, where did the Chronicle derive its account of Valentines secretly marrying Christians?
And another troubling detail, the account in the Nuremberg Chronicle would have put Valentine's martyrdom around 270 ad during the rule of Claudius, but the official list of martyrs for that time period was complied in 345ad and does not list any Valentines. There were however, as many as 14 Valentines recorded as being martyred in ancient Rome after 345ad (source). Valentines was a common name in that time period derived from the word 'valens' meaning worthy, strong, powerful.
Where there is proof:
There is a dedication in an ancient massive Roman church that reads:
Basilica S. Valentini extra Portamand
The basilica appellatur Valentini
The "Basilica of Staint Valentine beyond the Gate"and
"is called Valentine's"
These seem to point to a notable roman priest 'Valentine' from an earlier (possibly 270ad) time period.
|Saint Valentine of Terni oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni, |
from a 14th century French manuscript.
Today it is still unclear if Valentines day is the compilation of the noble works of many St. Valentines plus a bit of legend, or the extraordinary works of one man. Either way, it is a tradition built on idea of :
and good works.