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.

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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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  • Carlos

    We don’t celebrate St. Valentine’s feast today, it’s Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

    Oh, wait, in the Traditional calendar we celebrate St. Valentine’s day. I didn’t know you go to the Tridentine Mass, cool!

  • http://CatholicNews Thomas Lynch

    Falling in love is wonderful, staying in love means sacrifice

  • Ganago bariduura

    A life full days and worldly riches without Christ,is a waste life so far.the best life so far to live, is to live for the Gospel of our lord Jesus.thank u die for what u believe to b the only way and life

  • Matt

    Kathy: Thanks for making it impossible to share this article with my friends because of the creepy skull picture and puritan valentines. I would have loved to inform them about the story of St. Valentine, but now cannot do so without being perceived as a nut.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Matt: If your friends have no sense of humor, then cut and paste.