The Garden Muse — Was there really a Saint Valentine?

Published 10:45 am Saturday, February 19, 2022

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Did a Saint by the name of Valentine really exist? According to the Roman Catholic church and various legends he did. There are more than a few traditional stories regarded as historical and remain unauthenticated that have evolved over time on the history of St. Valentine. Some even believe that there was more than one legendary person to hold the title/name. I have amused myself over the years researching the person and I have come to a personal conclusion that there definitely did exist a Saint named Valentine. I believe that the many legends and stories we can find today developed over time from some historical happenings long ago, that have been woven together by the individual story tellers to fit their own narratives.

The history of St. Valentine is somewhat of a dark one, not resembling at all the holiday of lovers filled represented by loving sentiments and flowery sweet-smelling gifts known and celebrated today.

St. Valentine was a Roman priest and physician. He reached martyrdom during the persecution of Christians by Claudius II Gothicus around 270. The Roman Catholic church continues to recognize Valentine as the patron saint of lovers, epileptics and beekeepers. He died in third century Rome, on feast day Feb. 14. Some also believe that he was the Bishop of Terni Italy, also martyred in Rome.

The first of the most well-known legends of St. Valentine tells a story of a third century roman priest who defied Emperor Claudius II ban on marriage, illegally marring couples in ‘the spirit of love.’ To keep his men engaged in his many bloody and cruel campaigns Claudius banned marriage believing that men were more unwilling to join his army because of their attachments to their wives and families. St. Valentine was caught engaging in his defiant activities and sentenced to death.

The second story involves St. Valentine curing his jailer’s daughter of blindness. During his time in jail, he attempts to help Christians escape their prison in Rome. In a farewell letter to the jailor’s daughter before his execution he signed it ‘From your Valentine.’

At the end of the fifth Century the Roman Pope Gelasius officially declared Feb. 14 as Saint Valentine’s Day.

It was not until the Middle Ages that the holiday was associated with ‘love.’ It is presumed that this association dates to sometime in the 14th century. In 1415 the twenty-one-year-old French medieval Duke, Charles the Duke of Orleans wrote a note to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London, this note/poem is said to be the ‘first’ Valentine.

In the 1840’s an artist by the name of Esther A. Howland (1828-1904) designed and developed the first mass produced ‘Valentines.’ This earned her the moniker of “Mother of the American Valentine.’

Fascinating how a legend originating from a dark time in history has evolved into what we now consider a national holiday for lovers.

Dawn Conrad is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbal enthusiast, Writer and Fiber Artist. She can be contacted at dawn@