So who was St. Valentine, anyway?

Feb 14, 2022 | 2 comments

When I was a kid, we still called it “St. Valentine’s Day” and if it weren’t for my Catholic neighbors — Jackie, Joyce, and Robert — I would not have had a clue why Valentine was considered a saint.  The story they told me was a lot like the one I saw recently online, but they seemed sure of his existence, even if he did live back in the third century or so.

Of course,  in the 1940s we were all sure of lots of things that have come into question since then.  By the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, Valentine’s sainthood was re-called — too much uncertainty about whether he was or he wasn’t one.  But, curiously, in the Catholic Encyclopedia at least three (count ’em… three!) different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies (yes! it’s a word!) under the date of 14 February. Seems unfair that he became just plain old “Valentine.”

The one exception to “plain old” (wouldn’t you know) is in the name of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Curious, isn’t it, that we continue to mention his sainthood in connection with the infamous day that seven members and associates of George “Bugsy” Moran’s bootlegging gang were lined up against a wall and shot dead inside a Clark Street garage in Chicago.

One legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

The part of the story that Jackie, Joyce and Robert told me all those years ago fits right in with that.  According to them, the imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting, himself, after he fell in love with a young girl — possibly his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement.  Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From Your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

The feast of St. Valentine of February 14 was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” During the Middle Ages, it was believed that birds paired in mid-February. This was then associated with the romance of Valentine. Although these legends differ, Valentine’s Day is widely recognized as a day for romance and devotion.




  1. Kristina Jones

    Dear Cuz, It is always wonderful to read the kind of symbiotic restraint you use when giving history its full meaning! I MEAN, you could just Go On about all kinds of Love Advice in Our Troubled Times and you DON’T. You are committed to excellence. You control your basic instincts in a very refined manner. As your cousin, I am privileged to learn from you! Espys and Williamses and Joneses should ALL follow your lead! Love, KK

  2. Bruce B Jones

    Sydney and Kris,
    In the tradition of Jack Williams, you could go into the “Advice to the Lovelorn” business.
    In fact, you two are the most qualified people I know.


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