Universally known as the patron saint of lovers, Valentine was the first bishop of Terni, in Umbria. He devoted his life to the apostolate and was turned into a martyr by the Romans. Today, we will try to dig deeper into the life of this extremely charismatic man, declared saint by the Catholic church.
Valentine the martyr, between history and legend.
Valentine was born in Terni around 174 AC. He was the son of a patrician family and, after converting to Christianity, was consecrated Bishop of the city while still very young, in the year 197.
The Saint devoted most of his long life (he died at 97 years of age) to convert the heathen, and, for this reason, was repeatedly imprisoned by the Romans. Some sources say that his death sentence was decided by Emperor Aurelian, after the Bishop celebrated a marriage between Serapia, a Christian girl, and Sabino, a pagan Roman legionary.
Valentine was beheaded on the 14th of February 273, and his remains were buried under the hill of Treni, where, in the 4th century, a basilica was built in his name. It houses the remains of the saint, but not all of them, since many are disseminated in various churches in Italy and beyond: some of his remains are also found in Dublin, within the Church of Whitefriar.
So far the story… now let us unveil the myth: why is Saint Valentine universally known as the patron saint of lovers?
Legend has it that, one day, the Bishop was walking when he saw two young people arguing heatedly. He came up to them and gave them a rose that instantly made them reconcile. From that day onwards, it became tradition for young lovers to ask the bishop to bless their love.
Valentine’s day in Italy and worldwide.
Valentine’s day is celebrated on February 14, the day of his martyrdom. It was probably established in the fourth century to replace the pagan feast of Lupercalia, consecrated to the fertility god Lupercus, which took place on the 15th of February and was characterised by wild celebrations in open conflict with Christian morality.
Pope Gelasius I, in 496 AC, decided to move the holiday to the previous day, dedicating it to Saint Valentine, which officially became the patron saint of lovers from that day onwards.
The first guardians of the basilica dedicated to the Saint were the Benedictine monks, who spread his cult not only throughout Italy, but also in France and in many English-speaking countries.
Every year, on February 14, the city of Terni pays tribute to its patron by organising cultural, religious and festive events. The basilica leads a procession to the Cathedral, where a solemn mass is celebrated in the presence of the Bishop of Terni, and, through the streets of the town, there fair of Saint Valentine is held: nearly 300 stands attract visitors from Umbria and beyond.
A fun fact: every year, on the Sunday preceding the celebrations of the 14th of February, the “Festa della Promessa” (engagement party) takes place. During this celebration, all the couples that will wed during the year propose in front of the urn of Saint Valentine and are blessed by the bishop.
Here you can book to attend the ceremony and get Saint Valentine’s protection, because… you never know.