The Surprising Story of Saint Valentine
The seasonal aisle of the grocery store has been pink and heart-filled for weeks now, which must mean that Valentine’s Day – the day where the entire country celebrates St. Valentine (even if they don’t know who he is) – is upon us again.
For most people, the world “Saint” has entirely disappeared from this holiday’s title. But the reality is that St. Valentine’s story is much deeper than the cloud of candy and flowers might suggest.
Like many other Catholic based feasts that have melted into the fabric of society and lost much of their original meaning (I’m looking at you, St. Patrick), St. Valentine actually has a deep Catholic history.
But even if you’ve heard of St. Valentine’s story in the past, there are a few details that might surprise you.
The St. Valentine story
The story most people have probably heard about St. Valentine is that he was a priest in the early AD years who helped marry people in secret because marriage had been outlawed.
If this is true, it’s not too hard to see how the celebration of his feast day has turned into a celebration of romantic love.
But let’s be honest, a lot of the holiday’s celebration these days often boils down to commercialization.
If you, like many people, aren’t a big fan of celebrating the holiday as it’s often observed these days, there is still a lot of its history that you can appreciate and celebrate.
Surprises of St. Valentine’s story
There are a few facts about St. Valentine’s story that are usually overlooked. That isn’t surprising, since they have little to do with greeting cards or candy!
But for those of us in the Catholic Church, these forgotten details are actually the most important ones.
Check out a few of the most surprising overlooked details of St. Valentine’s story.
There is more than one St. Valentine
If you have the idea that there was only one St. Valentine, you’re mistaken. In fact, there seem to be at least eleven different Catholic saints by that name.
Of this great list of Valentines, the two most likely to be the saint whose story we’re familiar with are men who were priests in the 200s. Both were martyred for their faith in Christ, but not a lot of further details are known about their lives.
Apart from these two, there is quite the variety of backgrounds in lives of the Saint Valentines, including:
- A Pope in the 800s
- A German bishop and martyr
- An Italian martyr
- A 3rd century Italian bishop
- A French bishop
- An abbot and missionary bishop in a northern region of Italy
- A martyr in Alexandria
- A bishop and martyr in Vietnam in the 1800s
- A man martyred in Carthage with St. Dubatatius
He was a pope
When we think of Valentine’s Day, we’re probably not likely to think “Church leadership.” But the reality is that one of the Valentines was actually a pope, the epitome of Church leadership.
Pope Valentine was a pope in Rome for about 40 days in 827, and like many of the other Valentines, not much is known about his life.
But both Pope Valentine and a priest St. Valentine definitely existed at one point.
So for those of us who chafe at the modern, commercialized celebration of St. Valentine’s Day all around us, we can take the opportunity to celebrate the qualities of leadership and moral guidance of these great saints of the past.
He worked miracles
Another facet to focus on if you’re a bit sick of modern Valentine’s Day celebrations is that St. Valentine worked miracles.
The most famous miracle attributed to St. Valentine occurred through a letter he is said to have written to a young blind girl before his martyrdom. The girl miraculously gained her sight to read the note.
Another version of this story (or perhaps a different miracle altogether) is that he restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailer while he was imprisoned.
There is much faith and holiness needed in someone’s life for God to work miracles through them. So focusing on what this faith and holiness looked like is perhaps a better way to celebrate the holiday than a mere focus on romantic love.
He upheld the sanctity of marriage
According to the popular story of St. Valentine, he performed marriages of Christian couples in secret when emperor Claudius II outlawed Christian marriage.
While on the surface this situation seems very far removed from our own day and age, we can celebrate the fact that St. Valentine saw the value and sanctity of marriage when those in governmental power did not.
When we put it that way, it doesn’t sound too much different from nowadays, as we can see the sanctity of marriage being attacked around us on every side.
We can turn to St. Valentine’s example of faith and commitment to marriage, when we feel discouraged at the attacks on marriage’s sanctity today.
He is the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy
It’s pretty clear why St. Valentine is the patron saint of romantic love. His patronage of happy marriages and of young people don’t seem surprising, either.
But he’s also a patron of beekeepers and epilepsy. While it’s not readily clear why, it’s a nice tidbit for those of us looking for other things to celebrate this Valentine’s day.
If beekeeping or epilepsy happen to be close to your life, now would be a great time to get more involved in the cause, to volunteer or raise awareness.
Acts of service can be a great way to commemorate the holiday, if you’re looking for an alternative to traditional Valentine’s Day celebrations.
Celebrating St. Valentine’s story
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be synonymous with romantic love, flowers, and candy. You really can celebrate the day totally devoid of greeting cards or pink decorative hearts.
Take the opportunity instead to celebrate the various aspects of history contained in the day, the different saints who share the name, and the connection to our faith that the day represents.
This Valentine’s Day, learn more for yourself about just what it is we’re celebrating. Then, take the opportunity to explore more in the online dating world, asking for St. Valentine’s intercession.
Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic wife, mother, screenwriter, and blogger, as well as author of the Catholic YA romance novel SYDNEY AND CALVIN HAVE A BABY. She blogs about TV and Movies from Catholic perspective at Thorne in the Flesh: A Faithful Catholic's Guide to Netflix, Hulu, and More.