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Yes, there was at least one real St. Valentine

There was at least one real St. Valentine, though experts have found three overlapping accounts of the historical figure.
Credit: AP
This January 2, 2014 photo shows a book next to the altar of St. Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. Although he was not Irish, remains of the third-century martyr are buried here, along with a tincture of his blood. Visitors are invited to write to St. Valentine in the book, which is filled with poignant requests for help finding love and marriage. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

Valentine’s Day is a day of romance, or at least tasty chocolate. But to some, the holiday still holds the religious significance of “St. Valentine’s Day,” which was named for the historical figure who is believed to be the patron saint of love and the namesake behind the holiday’s romantic festivities.

Two popular Google searches related to the holiday and the legendary saint are, “Is St. Valentine real?” and “Is St. Valentine a real saint?” 

THE QUESTION

Was there a real St. Valentine?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, there was at least one St. Valentine, and depending on sources there might have been as many as three separate saints named Valentine.

WHAT WE FOUND

The Vatican states that there are two saints named Valentine listed in the Roman Martyrology, the official catalog of saints of the Catholic Church. The two saints’ histories are often linked with that of Valentine’s Day’s namesake, possibly because they were the same person.

Both saints, the first one a priest from Rome and the second a bishop from the nearby town of Terni, were known for performing healing miracles. The Vatican credits the priest with healing the sight of a Roman nobleman’s blind daughter, and the bishop with healing a boy’s “physical deformity that forced him to keep his head between his knees” through prayer.

According to the Vatican, both Valentines were killed on Feb. 14 — the priest around 270 AD and the bishop around 347 AD. Both were executed along the Via Flaminia, one of the major roads of ancient Rome. They were both then buried in a tomb near the road.

“There are too many connections between the stories of the Valentine of Rome and the Valentine of Terni, including their places of martyrdom and burial, for us not to think they are one and the same person,” the Vatican says.

Europeana, a European cultural heritage database co-financed by the European Union, says there was also a third Christian martyr from North Africa known as St. Valentine who also could have been the same person. The Catholic Education Resource Center says nothing more is known about this saint except that he suffered martyrdom alongside several of his companions.

In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius I marked Feb. 14 the Feast of Saint Valentine — Valentine’s Day — in honor of the Roman priest, Europeana says. 

But St. Valentine was not originally associated with romance like he is today. The Vatican credits medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer with making Valentine’s Day, and St. Valentine himself, all about love.

The University of North Carolina College of Arts and Sciences says Chaucer’s “Parliament of Fowls” is “one of the earliest known Valentine poems.” The poem mentions “Saint Valentine’s Day” three times and “Saint Valentine” himself once, all in association with the poem’s primary theme of courtly love.

Chaucer’s words stuck, and today St. Valentine is the patron saint of love, but that’s not all he represents. Europeana says he is also the patron saint of beekeepers and epileptic people.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, St. Valentine may be associated with epilepsy, once known as “falling sickness,” because his name sounds similar to the German word for “fallen.” Another possibility is that one of the bishop Valentine’s healing miracles was for a boy suffering from an epileptic seizure. A study published in an epilepsy-focused medical journal found that out of 341 pieces of art depicting St. Valentine since the 15th century, 143 include people with possible epilepsy characteristics.

As for his association with beekeeping? Well, the reason for that one is still a mystery.

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