Today is marked as a day for lovers hyped over the years by intense commercialism and much humor in social media. Flower vendors and gift shops are cashing in on the fever with the ubiquitous hearts and cupids all in the name of St. Valentine.
When did this holiday begin? According to the Smithsonian, this began as a feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love. As the story goes, ‘there were several St. Valentines who died on Feb. 14. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., at a time when persecution of Christians was common.’
This was documented by Bollandists, a group named after Jean Bolland, a Jesuit scholar who began publishing the massive 68-folio volumes of “Acta Sanctorum,” or “Lives of the Saints,” beginning in 1643. The monks spent three centuries collecting evidence for the lives of saints from manuscript archives around the known world. The volume encompassing Feb. 14 contains the stories of a handful of “Valentini,” including the earliest three of whom died in the third century.
A Smithsonian article says “ the earliest Valentinus is said to have died in Africa, along with 24 soldiers. Unfortunately, even the Bollandists could not find any more information about him. As the monks knew, sometimes all that the saints left behind was a name and day of death.
‘We know only a little more about the other two Valentines. The third third-century Valentinus was a bishop of Terni in the province of Umbria, Italy. According to his equally dodgy legend, Terni’s bishop got into a situation like the other Valentinus by debating a potential convert and afterward healing his son. The rest of story is quite similar as well: He too, was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Gothicus and his body buried along the Via Flaminia.
It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, that there weren’t actually two decapitated Valentines, but that two different versions of one saint’s legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.
Nonetheless, African, Roman or Umbrian, none of the Valentines seems to have been a romantic.” (www.smithsonian.com)