All About Saint Valentine's Day
Saint Valentine's Day Definition and Summary
Saint Valentine's Day, named after an actual Christian and Catholic saint (or, possibly, up to three), is no longer celebrated on the Catholic general calendar, although the day is celebrated popularly in many Western countries on February 14. In the Church, the day is associated with martyrdom, but in Western popular culture, it is associated with love and romance.
Liturgical Color(s): Red
Type of Holiday: No longer on general calendar
Time of Year: February 14
Duration: One day
Celebrates/Symbolizes: The life and martyrdom of Saint Valentine
Most of what is known about Saint Valentine (Latin: Valentinus) is legend. Historians are not completely certain which Valentine is commemorated on February 14. The commemoration may celebrate up to three different Valentines.
The first was a Roman priest martyred on the Flaminian Way under Roman Emperor Claudius (c. AD 269). The second was a bishop of Terni (ancient Interamna), born around AD 175 who was taken to Rome and martyred. The third Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa, about whom little else is known.
The accounts of martyrdom of all three Valentines are legendary, although each legend may contain kernels of fact. All three were likely martyred, hence the color of red that is used liturgically (although the reason red is associated with modern Saint Valentine celebrations is likely because red is the color of some roses).
The "Acts" of Saint Valentine are of medieval origin (sixth-seventh centuries), and are historically unreliable. The name Valentine was popular in antiquity, as it is derived from the word valens, meaning "worthy."
Over time, the feast grew in popularity and, eventually, began to be associated with love and romance. Some scholars have speculated that the association with romantic love on Valentine's Day is related to customs associated with the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which fell in mid-February. Others believe that the connection of Saint Valentine's Day to romance relates to the natural season in which the feast falls. In fact, the real reason likely is that folk wisdom at the time held that birds paired up and mated on February 14.
In the July 1981 issue of Speculum (Journal of Medieval Studies), medieval scholar Jack Oruch makes a strong case that the Saint Valentine's Day connection to love and romance derives solely from Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Foules (Fowls). In this poem, nature convenes a parliament in which birds will choose their mate. Even though Chaucer connects the romantic overtones of Saint Valentine's Day to ancient customs, Oruch effectively argues that no such traditions existed before Chaucer's time. Thus, modern research suggests it is unlikely that secular Saint Valentine's Day customs are pagan practices derived from the Roman Lupercalia.
Modern customs associated with Saint Valentine's Day are based on customs and traditions from earlier periods. For example, sending Valentine greetings originated in the Middle Ages. In the 1700s, Americans began sending valentines to one another, and the first mass produced ones were made in 1847.
During the mid-19th century, Valentine's Day underwent a transformation, going from an "old world" celebration to a holiday resembling the more commercialized version known to most Americans and other Westerners today. Robert Chambers, in his 1864 Book of Days, noted the strongly sentimental nature of modern Saint Valentine's Day customs. By the latter half of the 20th century, giving all sorts of romantic items (besides just cards) became associated with Valentine's Day. In some schools, it is a custom for classes to exchange valentine cards with all other students in the class. While secular customs associated with Saint Valentine's Day are either morally neutral or even good (such as giving gifts), the modern secular holiday has little connection to the original saint(s) or feast.
Pope Gelasius I (d. AD 496) first proclaimed the Feast of Saint Valentine, although the pope declared that Valentine was among those whose acts were known only to God, demonstrating that when Valentine was first commemorated, very little, if any, material about his life was known. It is not known whether Pope Gelasius knew of more than one Valentine.
The feast of Saint Valentine became popular, and various churches have been dedicated to him. However, in 1969, the Catholic Church removed his feast from the general calendar, in an effort to remove those saints whose origins are based primarily on legendary accounts. This does not mean that Valentine is no longer a saint. However, his feast is no longer celebrated on February 14 by most Catholics throughout the world. Yet, in Balzan and Malta, where supposed relics of Saint Valentine are present, Saint Valentine is still celebrated liturgically on February 14. Saints Cyril and Methodius are currently celebrated on February 14 on the Catholic general calendar. There is nothing to stop a Catholic from honoring one of the Saint Valentines on February 14.
The antiphon traditionally associated with this feast day is
This saint fought even unto death, for the law of his God, and feared not the words of the wicked; for he was set upon a firm rock.
The prayer traditionally associated with this feast day is:
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who solemnize the festival of blessed Valentine, thy martyr, may, by his intercession, be delivered from all the evils that threaten us Through Christ Our Lord. Amen
Worship and Prayer Resources
Traditions, Symbols, and Typology
Traditions: Giving valentine cards (secular), romantic gifts/gestures (secular)
Symbols: the color red, hearts (secular), roses/flowers (secular), chocolates (secular)
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why doesn't the Catholic Church celebrate Saint Valentine's Day? Much of the material surrounding Saint Valentine's Day is legendary, and confusion exists as to which Valentine is celebrated on February 14. In 1969, the Catholic Church released a new general liturgical calendar (the Church calendar that Catholics throughout the entire world observe, with local variations and adaptations). Saints like Valentine, whose origins are based on legendary material, were removed from this new general calendar. However, some local dioceses and parishes still liturgically celebrate Saint Valentine's Day, and an individual Catholic may personally remember Saint Valentine on February 14 or any other day. Also, just because a saint is removed from the general liturgical calendar does not mean that saint did not exist, or that that particular saint is no longer a saint. There are still numerous saints named Valentine, and even if we do not know much about their lives, they are still holy men who gave their lives for Christ.
2. Is Saint Valentine a patron saint? Yes, Saint Valentine of Rome is patron of engaged couples, beekeepers, happy marriages, love, lovers, young people, and travelers and is the patron saint against fainting, epilepsy, and plague. Saint Valentine of Terni is the patron saint of Terni, Italy.
3. Is Valentine's Day a pagan holiday? Not likely. As mentioned above, recent scholarship suggests that the connection of Valentine's Day with love and romance can be traced to Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, and not earlier. Thus, the claims that Valentine's Day is a pagan feast are suspect.
This page written by David Bennett.