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Who Was Saint Valentine?

What Would You Say?

You’re in a conversation and someone asks, “Where did Valentine’s Day come from?” What would you say? Every 14th of February we celebrate Valentine’s Day by exchanging cards, going out for candlelit dinners, and sharing special moments. Though the holiday is now primarily focused on romantic love, it originated as a feast day for a Christian saint. Some details about the life of St. Valentine are uncertain. The tricky part for historians is that early Christian sources mention three different “Valentines,” all of whom died on February 14th, but it’s likely that the two main Valentines were actually a single person. Although there are varying accounts of his life, there is consensus regarding a basic outline. So the next time someone asks you who St. Valentine was, here are three things to remember: Number 1: Valentine prayed for God to heal the blind daughter of a Roman judge, and God did. Valentine lived as a Christian priest in Italy in the mid-200s AD during the decline of the Roman Empire. As pagans, it was common for the Romans to blame misfortunes on Christians who had failed to give the pagan gods their due. Valentine refused to pray to the pagan gods and was put under house arrest by a judge named Asterius. While under arrest, Valentine began having conversations with Asterius about who Jesus was. Asterius’s daughter was blind, and so he challenged Valentine, saying that if Jesus could give his daughter her sight again, he would believe. Valentine prayed, and Asterius’s daughter was healed. When he saw this miracle, Asterius repented and was baptized along with every member of his household. He also released Valentine and all the other Christians he had imprisoned. Although reports are inconsistent about some parts of Valentine’s life, there is complete consensus among the records that this miraculous healing happened and that Asterius converted because of it. Number 2: Valentine was arrested a second time because he evangelized pagans and helped Christians. After the healing of Asterius’s daughter, Valentine continued evangelizing. According to some sources, he also began secretly marrying Christian couples and aiding persecuted Christians. Both actions were illegal in Rome at the time. Marrying Christians couples was especially dangerous because married men couldn’t be drafted into the Roman army, which did not make the weakening Roman Empire very happy. But Valentine didn’t stop, and according to one source, he would even cut out heart shapes from parchment and give them to newlywed couples so that they would be reminded of their vows and God’s love for them. These courageous actions were seen as a threat, and Valentine was arrested a second time and sent to the Claudius II, then the Prefect of Rome. Number 3: Valentine was martyred on February 14th. Claudius took a liking to his prisoner Valentine’s charismatic personality, and conversed with him, even though he didn’t agree with his Christian beliefs. However, Valentine couldn’t keep the Gospel to himself. He tried to convert Claudius, which was too much for the Prefect, and he ordered Valentine’s execution. On February 14, 269 AD, Valentine was ferociously beaten with clubs, and when that didn’t kill him, he was led outside the city gates and beheaded. The Church established February 14th as a feast day to commemorate his entrance into Heaven. The holiday has morphed over the years. Sometime in the Middle Ages, it became associated with romantic love. In 1969, the Church took St. Valentine’s Day off the liturgical calendar because of the uncertainties about parts of his biography, particularly the period between his two arrests. But the paper hearts and symbols of love continue year by year. It is said that one of Valentine’s final letters before his execution was sent to Asterius’s daughter. With her renewed sight she would have seen his signature at the end, which read: “Your Valentine” So the next time someone asks, who was St. Valentine and why do we celebrate him on February 14th, remember these three things: Number 1: Valentine prayed for God to heal the blind daughter of a Roman judge, and God did. Number 2: Valentine was arrested a second time because he evangelized pagans and helped Christians. Number 3: Valentine was martyred on February 14th. For What Would You Say, I’m Brooke McIntire.

Thank you to Dr. Glenn Sunshine, professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, for his help with this video.