The Bloody Legends Surrounding Valentine’s Day

Samuel M. McCall
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Valentine's Day

Most of the legends surrounding Valentine’s Day begin with the Roman Emperor Claudius II imposing a ban on marriages in order to gain more recruits for his army somewhere around A.D. 270. At that time, only single men could join the Roman army as they were thought to make better soldiers.

However, curbing the desires of hot-blooded young men and women is a difficult task to overcome even for a Roman Emperor. Lovers will be lovers. And, these young men kept getting married despite the ban, thereby avoiding their duty to the army and the Roman Empire.

But someone had to marry them. Who would defy the Roman Emperor? Legend suggests that St. Valentinus, believing in the sanctity of Christian marriage, performed secret marriages despite the ban by Emperor Claudius II. Once St. Valentinus was caught performing these marriages, he was sentenced to death.

We can’t really say for sure that any of this is true. What we can say for sure is that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes St. Valentinus (St. Valentine) as a real person who died during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II. But even the Roman Catholic Church, as early as 496 A.D., questioned St. Valentinus’ true identity and the acts for which he became a martyr. So little is known about him, and the acts for which he was supposedly martyred, that in 1969 the Catholic Church removed him from the General Roman Calendar, though his name still appears on the list of officially recognized saints.

What are the Legends surrounding St. Valentinus?

One version of the legend states, that while St. Valentinus was awaiting execution, he was showered with notes from young lovers extolling the virtues of love over war. If you are a former flower child, you’ve heard this before. These notes would have been the very first Valentines, if they ever existed.

Another version of the legend has St. Valentinus falling in love with the jailer’s daughter while in confinement, and during a visit from the girl – handed her a note or letter that he signed, “From your Valentine.” If this version is true, then this was the very first Valentine.

A third version of the legend says that St. Valentinus restored the sight of a blind girl, possibly the jailer’s daughter, who then fell in love with the patron saint.

Red for Valentine’s Day

While we can’t vouch for the veracity of any particular version of the story with any certainty — we can affirm that red is an appropriate color for St. Valentinus, or Valentine’s Day, as the beloved saint of love was beheaded on February 14th, somewhere around A.D. 270.

Unfortunately, we can’t verify much else. And often, legend supersedes fact. What we do know is that the Roman Emperor Claudius II and the Roman Empire were besieged on all sides by enemies who Claudius was continually warring with and therefore it would have been understandable that he would want the best army possible. Maybe he did ban marriages. But even that is in dispute.

We also know that there was a St. Valentinus, possibly more than one, and that two of them were beheaded. Some historians believe that the two separate historical accounts or references of a St. Valentinus beheading actually refer to the same person. Some say there were three or more St. Valentinus. Again, even this is disputed.

The one fact that can’t be denied, is that from this turmoil in time there arose within the Roman Catholic Church a patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and beekeepers named St. Valentine and from this legend — from this Saint — we were given Valentine’s Day.

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