February - Saint Valentine

14th February (c.270)

There are only two saints whose feast days are listed in ordinary calendars - Patrick, and this month’s Saint - Valentine. Records show that two priests, both called Valentine, are commemorated on 14th February. One was a Bishop of Terni who was beheaded in c270 in Rome; the other was a priest or physician who was martyred in c269 under Emperor Claudius. Although they had different attributes or symbols associated with them - the crow is linked with the Bishop, having indicated to his followers where he should be buried, and a sword and a sun linked to the priest (the sword with which he was killed and a sun because he gave sight to a blind girl, the daughter of his jailer) - some scholars argue that they could well have been the same person.

Neither of them seems to have any connection with lovers or courting couples other than having been martyred in mid-February, a time when birds were said to choose a mate - and the Roman pagan season of Lupercalia, a festival in honour of the goddess Februata Juno, when boys drew by lot names of unmarried girls. Whatever the reason, the connection of lovers with St Valentine, with all its consequences for the printing and retailing industries, is one of the less likely results of the cult of the Roman martyrs. Interestingly there are no churches in England dedicated to this saint - what a popular wedding venue this would have been!

Angela Newton

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 31st January 1998