This Is Romance? St. Valentine’s Story

He was a priest in Rome.

No, he was a bishop in Interamna (now the region of Terni, Italy).

No, he was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

 *     *     *     *

There’s a lot of confusion, actually, about St. Valentine, whose feast we celebrate today.

The most popular legend places Valentine near Rome in the third century, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius III (nicknamed Claudius the Cruel).  According to the story, Claudius sought to expand the Roman Empire, and so needed a strong army to conquer new settlements.  He was having trouble getting soldiers to join his military forces; and Claudius believed that this was because young men were unwilling to leave their wives and families.  Therefore, the Emperor banned all marriages and engagements in Rome.

In stepped Valentine, a holy priest.  Seeing the injustice of Claudius’ decree, Valentine defied the Emperor and continued to secretly marry young lovers.  For this, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.  Valentine was arrested and brought before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned the priest to death.

While in prison awaiting his execution, Valentine wrote letters—including one to the daughter of the prison guard.  So developed the custom of sending “Valentines” or love letters on the saint’s feast day.

On the Via Flaminia, near the Milvian bridge in Rome, Valentine was beaten with clubs and his head was cut off on February 14 in about A.D. 278.   His head (or at least his skull) is enshrined in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in Rome.  This may not be the most romantic of photos, but at least there are flowers!

And thus began the custom of sending valentines to your sweetheart on this day.  Here, one of the funnier memes circulating the web this morning:  Valentines for Puritans.

Love and kisses,


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