Sunday, February 13, 2011

Will the Real Saint Valentine Please Stand Up? A Holiday Where All You Need is Love

There used to be a game show show on TV called What's My Line. Running on CBS from 1950 to 1967, it has the distinction of being the longest running game show in the history of U.S. prime time TV. The show had three persons of some notoriety trying to stump a panel of celebrities. The panel would ask pointed questions in their attempt to root out the true person. At the conclusion the host would say "Will the real __________ please stand up."

Perhaps if he were alive, St. Valentine might have been a worthy guest on the game show for his real identity is a bit of a mystery. It appears that there are at least three different martyrs named Valentine all listed with a feast day of February 14th. Two appear to have lived and died in the second half of the third century, buried in Rome. The third Saint Valentine seems to have died in Africa. Confusing? Yes! According to the Catholic Encyclopedia the three contenders were a priest in Rome, a bishop in Terni and that third mysterious St. Valentine who met his end in Africa.

St. Valentine, the priest 
He lived around 270 AD in Rome and fell into disfavor of the Roman emperor Claudius II. Catholics and Protestants agree that he was beaten with clubs and eventually beheaded because he refused to renounce his faith. 

St. Valentine, the bishop
He was a bishop who held secret marriage ceremonies. These marriages were made to soldiers in opposition to Claudius II who believed that the best soldiers were unmarried soldiers. Claudius subsequently gave the order of execution for Valentine. Folklore says that just before he died, Valentine asked for a pen and paper from his jailer, and signed a farewell message to a friend signed "From Your Valentine,” a phrase that has lasted to this day.

St. Valentine, from Africa
Other than the fact that he died in Africa, not much else is known.

So February 14th became a day for all who love and Valentine became its Patron Saint. It began to be observed each year by young Romans who sent handwritten notes of affection, known as Valentines, to the women they admired. With the coming of Christianity, the day came to be known as St. Valentine's Day.

And then there's Cupid. Where does he fit in? In Roman mythology Cupid is the son of Venus, goddess of love. Cupid is often said to be a boy who causes humans to fall in love by wounding them with his arrows. Cupid is often used to illustrate a Valentine card.

There was also a belief in Europe during the Middle Ages that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. The day was dedicated to love and people wrote love letters, sending small gifts to the ones they loved. According to legend, Charles, duke of Orleans, sent the first real Valentine card to his wife in 1415, while imprisoned in the Tower of London. The first American Valentine's Day greeting cards were created by Esther A. Howland (right) a native of Worcester. Mass. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures. When Howland began Valentine's cards in a large scale the tradition really caught on in the United States.

The Catholic Church no longer officially honors St. Valentine.

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