TODAY is Saint Valentine’s Day and with the possible exception of Saints George, Christopher and Nicholas – see below – no single saintly figure in the entire history of Christianity has inspired more myths and legends.

Valentine’s name and feast day is now intertwined with a whole widespread sub-culture of love and, frankly, lust. How a third-century martyr came to be associated with soppy romantic cards, bouquets of roses, chocolates, marriage proposals and sexy underwear is actually easy to understand – it was all made up centuries after the poor chap himself literally lost his head for the sake of love.


AS is the case with so many early Christian saints, there is little or no written contemporaneous record of what Valentine did to earn his reputation as a saint, never mind being the patron saint of love. We don’t even know which Valentine he was – two legends identify him as different people.

The most popular version is that he was a priest and possibly a medical man called Valentinus who preached in Rome in the third century and who was put to death by being beheaded on February 14, 269 or 270, during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II). There is only one problem with that account – there is no record of the emperor persecuting Christians. The “other” Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, who was also decapitated in Rome on February 14, 269 or 270. It is likely they were the same person.

The historical Valentine doesn’t appear until the fifth century, when he was reported by scholars to have been martyred by being beheaded on the Via Flaminia. There is simply nothing in writing earlier to prove he existed.

There were legends aplenty that grew apace – that Valentine had cured the daughter of an important Roman or his jailer of blindness and sent her a note before he died signed “Your Valentine”, and that his rebellious act was to encourage young Christians to marry at a time when the emperor had forbidden engagements to encourage young men to enter the army. Except Claudius didn’t do that either.

Valentine was recognised as a martyr and given his own feast day in 496, and relics of the saint are still venerated in Madrid, Dublin, Prague and Blessed John Duns Scots Church in the Gorbals in Glasgow.

The National:


IN that year, Saint Valentine was one of dozens of saints who suffered the ultimate indignity of being struck off the official General Roman Calendar. The church still called him a saint but made the observation of his feast day a matter for local bishops to decide.

Removing him from the global Catholic calendar was a huge indication that the Vatican doubted his existence, never mind his sainthood, with the official reason for his “demotion” being the lack of verifiable facts about him.

At the same time Pope Paul VI doled out the same fate to St Christopher and St Nicholas – yes, he really did demote Santa Claus. There were howls of indignation at first – mostly from English flagmakers – when  St George (above) was also downgraded, but that has not stopped his banner being splattered all over England in increasing numbers.


JUST as George had his dragon, people have embraced the cultural significance of the saint rather than the man himself. The idea of Valentine and love is not mentioned anywhere until Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about in the 14th century.

The cult grew spectacularly, especially after card publishers cashed in. But hey, in a world in which there often seems to be too little love, there is surely nothing wrong with having a feast day that celebrates love, even if the saint in question is more myth than fact.