St.Valentine (Valentino) was a Roman priest who performed marriages in
spite of Claudius II's law against such (Claudius believed that
marriage was distracting to his soldiers, so outlawed it to them for a
time). Fr. Valentine was martyred in A.D. 270 on the Flammian way, and
at the site of his martyrdom, Julius I built a popular basilica.
Other than this, little is known about our Saint. Because two other St.
share this Feast day ("Valentine" was an extremely common name for
Christians as it has the same root as the word "valor"), often their
stories are confused, but it is the Roman priest-martyr whom we honor
during the liturgy.
St. Valentine's skull is in Rome, but other of his relics -- at least a
great majority of them --
are, interestingly enough, in the Whitefriar Church associated with the
Calced Carmelites in Dublin, Ireland. They were excavated from the
Cemetery of St. Hippolytus, on the Triburtine Way in Rome in 1835 and
were then given to Fr. Spratt, an Irish Carmelite, by Pope Gregory XVI
in 1836. The relics, "together with a
small vessel tinged with his blood," were deposited "in a wooden case
covered with painted paper, well closed, tied with a red silk ribbon
and sealed with our seals and we have so delivered and consigned to
him, and we have granted unto him power in the Lord, to the end that he
may retain to himself, give to others, transmit beyond the city (Rome)
and in any church, oratory or chapel, to expose and place the said
blessed holy body for the public veneration of the faithful without,
however, an Office and Mass, conformably to the decree of the Sacred
Congregation of Rites, promulgated on the 11th day of August 1691," as
the letter accompanying the relics reads. On this Feast Day, his relics
are carried in procession, and a special Mass is offered for young
people and lovers.
Valentine's relics in Dublin
Valentine's skull in Chiesa di Santa Maria in Rome
The Novena to St. Valentine can be
prayed always, but is especially prayed starting on February 5 and
ending on the eve of his feast today.
Because of his
Nuptial Masses, he became the patron of lovers, the affianced, and
married couples, and fortuitous to the priest's association with
romance is the belief that halfway through the month of February, birds
choose their mates, hence St. Valentine's association with birds,
especially lovebirds and doves. Chaucer mentions this belief in his
"Parliament of Foules":
For this was
sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
is the fact that red is both the color of Martrys and the color
associated with love. Red roses are also a symbol of both martyrom and
love, and had also always been associated with the Roman godess of
Venus' son, Cupid ("Eros" in Greek), god of love, was originally
depicted as a very handsome young man, but now as a winged putto
bearing a bow and arrow with which to smite hearts with love. His
image, along with the image of hearts he has pierced with his arrows,
are ubiquitous symbols of romantic love on this day.
Day cards are a very ancient custom; one of the oldest extant
"valentines," as such St. Valentine's Day greetings -- and the persons
to whom they're sent -- came to be known, was sent in 1477 by Margery
Brews to her fiancÚ, John Paston, and can be seen now in the British
Museum. It reads:
Unto my right
well-beloved Valentine John Paston, squire, be this bill delivered.
Right reverent and worshipful and my right well-beloved valentine, I
recommend me unto you full heartedly, desiring to hear of your welfare,
which I beseech Almighty God long for to preserve unto his pleasure and
your hearts desire.
And if it pleases you to hear of my welfare, I am not in good health of
body nor of heart, nor shall I be till I hear from you.
For there knows no creature what pain that I endure, And even on the
pain of death I would reveal no more.
And my lady my mother hath laboured the matter to my father full
diligently, but she can no more get than you already know of, for which
God knoweth I am full sorry.
But if you love me, as I trust verily that you do, you will not leave
me therefore. For even if you had not half the livelihood that you
have, for to do the greatest labour that any woman alive might, I would
not forsake you.
And if you command me to keep me true wherever I go, indeed I will do
all my might you to love and never anyone else.
And if my friends say that I do amiss, they shall not stop me from
My heart me bids evermore to love you truly over all earthly things.
And if they be never so angry, I trust it shall be better in time
No more to you at this time, but the Holy Trinity have you in keeping.
And I beseech you that this bill be not seen by any non earthly
creature save only yourself.
And this letter was written at Topcroft with full heavy heart.
By your own Margery Brews
Oldest existing valentine, British Museum
To send a very Catholic valentine to someone you love, how about using
a paraphrase of today's Collect as the basis for the text?
beseech Thee, O almighty God, that (Name of loved one), who celebrates
the heavenly birthday of blessed Valentine, Thy Martyr, may by his
intercession be delivered from all the evils that threaten (him/her).
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with
Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.
...with all the
personal, mushy stuff at the bottom? For a romantic card for a spouse,
some of the poetry found in Solomon's Canticle of Canticles -- a Book
which uses marital love as a metaphor for God's love for His Church --
cannot be surpassed for inspiration.
Another option -- one that will take some time -- is the making of
"Sailors Valentines." These beautiful mosaic-like pictures are made of
seashells arranged in exquisite patterns inside frames (sometimes in
that close like large lockets). The seashells and other bits of things
found in nature are arranged to form words, flowers, designs, nautical
themes, etc. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they were made
in the West Indies and sold to sailors to give to their sweethearts
On this day, the
giving of roses is standard (consider offering Spiritual Bouquets, too), and as to
foods, oysters, chocolates, champagne, and heart-shaped foods are
all considered to be romantic.
In the town of Terni, Umbria, Italy, of which St. Valentine is patron,
he is honored for almost the entire month of February. On the Sunday
before his feast comes what is called la
Festa della Promessa (the "Feast of the Promise"), a Mass to
which all the engaged couples of Italy are invited and at which they
exchange promises of marriage. The couple are given a commemorative
parchment and flowers for the brides-to-be. Before his feast day
of St. Valentine's relics are processed
from the Basilica named for him to the town's cathedral, where the
Bishop offers Mass (terraces and balconies all along the way are lit up
with candles); after the Feast, they are processed back again. On the
third Sunday of the month is la Festa
delle Nozze d'argento -- a
special celebration for all couples celebrating their Silver
Anniversaries (25 years of marriage), and on the fourth Sunday is la Festa delle Nozze d'oro --
a celebration for all those celebrating their Golden Anniversaries (50
years of marriage). Isn't that lovely?
And a note to all: be sure to wish people "Happy Saint
Valentine's Day" rather than just "Happy Valentine's Day." This will
help keep the deeper meaning of the day in focus!