The Real Saint Valentine

Will the real Saint Valentine please stand up? The anniversary of this priest’s martyrdom seems like an odd choice for a day dedicated to love. He certainly wasn’t Cupid, so where’s the connection?

Not a lot is known about this saint, but we know that St. Valentine was a priest who lived in Rome in the 3rd century during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, a man known for his cruelty and persecution of Christians. He was martyred around the year 270.

Reliquary with Saint Valentine's head in Rome
Reliquary with Saint Valentine’s head in Rome

Beheaded martyr and roses and chocolate: an odd combination. But the real St. Valentine’s skull is still around today. “Right here in Rome is the skull of St. Valentine. It’s actually kept in the [Basilica] of St. Maria in Cosmedin and so on the feast of St. Valentine, people from far and wide will go to venerate the remains of this important martyr of the third century,” said Ashley Noronha, Relevant Radio® Rome Correspondent.

While the stories vary on how exactly St. Valentine became associated with romance and love, his feast day has been celebrated on February 14 for many hundreds of years, since Pope Gelasius declared it the year 496.

One common legend says that Claudius outlawed marriages and engagements in the Roman Empire in order to build up his army with men who were unattached to families and thus more willing to join the military. Defying the emperor, St. Valentine performed wedding ceremonies for couples in secret.

Another legend claims that St. Valentine wrote a letter to the daughter of his jailer, whom he had befriended before his execution. He signed the letter “from your Valentine”.

So there you have it. Whether or not you’re into the mushy, gushy, romantic side of St. Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to remember the man who lost his head for the sake of his Catholic faith. There’s nothing more romantic than that, right?

Ashley Noronha’s News from Rome segment is featured on Morning Air® every Wednesday. Tune in to Morning Air weekdays at 5-8am CT only on Relevant Radio®.

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.