So – history tells us that a man named Valentinus was martyred on Feb 14th in the latter part of the third century AD. As is often the way with such figures, when it comes to the details of his life, legend appears to overtake the facts. As we celebrate St Valentine’s Day here are some intriguing facts about our romantic holiday.
1. Who Was St Valentine?
St Valentine is known to have been a real person who died around AD 270. However, his true identity still remains in doubt. Like lots of fun stories, this one begins with two men. One account of his life from the 1400s refers to Valentine as a temple priest who helped Christian couples get married and was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Claudius 11. Another account claims that Valentine was actually the Bishop of Terni, also martyred by Claudius 11. Or perhaps they were the same person. History is hard. Fact is, enough confusion surrounds him that the Catholic Church discontinued liturgical veneration of him in 1969 – although his name remains of their list of officially recognised saints – much, as we can imagine – to the relief of the greetings card industry.
2. Busy, Busy
You’d think that being responsible for love, lovers and loving would keep you busy enough in the afterlife. Apparently not. As well as having his own heart adorned day, St Valentine also intercedes in earthly affairs regarding beekeeping and epilepsy as well as the plague, fainting and travelling – also known as being on the Central Line during rush hour. More expectedly, perhaps, he’s also the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages.
3. Just Another Tale…
That old chancer, Chaucer has been accused of making the whole thing up. Well known for taking certain liberties with history, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer often placed his fictional characters into a historical context which he would then represent as fact. No actual record of Valentine’s Day as we know it exists until he wrote a poem in 1375 called ‘Parliament of Foules, which linked courtly love with a celebration of St Valentine’s feast day. Having written “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” he may well have simply made the whole thing up.