Who Was The Real St Valentine?

In the cold depths of February lies a warm day full of love and romance, a chance for you to tell someone just how much you love them. St Valentine's Day is now one of the biggest commercial events of the year. Restaurants will be booked for weeks in advance, florists and chocolate sellers are stocking up and the card manufacturers are going into overdrive. Everywhere we look there are hearts and roses - but who was St Valentine, and why does he hold such a special place in our lives?

More than one Saint Valentine

The truth is that nobody is really sure who the real Saint Valentine was. The name Valentine derives from the Latin valens, meaning worthy, strong or powerful, and was popular during antiquity. There could be as many as 14 candidates for the title of Saint Valentine, but the most likely candidate was buried at Via Flaminia, north of Rome. Saint Valentine as we know him does not appear in the Catholic church's earliest list of Roman martyrs, but the first feast of St Valentine was initiated in 496AD by Pope Gelasius I. Even then, nothing was known about this mysterious of all saints, and speculation ranged from his identity as a priest in Rome, a martyr in the Roman provinces of Africa and a bishop of Interamna (modern-day Terni).

The first recognisable version of St Valentine appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle in 1493, where his identity was revealed as a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II for performing the marriage of Christian couples and helping those persecuted by the state for their religion to escape.

Others believe that St Valentine was introduced to persuade pagans to turn away from their own, older holiday of Lupercalia, while others believe that St Valentine was an invention of the 14th Century writer Geoffrey Chaucer. The truth is that nobody really knows who St Valentine was, and why he became synonymous with romance. The mystery surrounding his life story and indeed his very existence adds in its own way an element of romance entirely in keeping with the sentiments of his feast day. 

Today Valentine's Day means different things to different people, but love and romance seem universal and haven't changed that much over the last 1500 years or so! 

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