So what actually is Valentines day?

SO IT SEEMS Valentines day is soon to be upon us, and it seems that this year nearly everyone is in anticipation for the Saints day.  Admittedly that is almost certainly due to the romantic epic ‘Deadpool’ set to hit cinemas.  But what might be an equally bloody film, though less exciting, would be one based on the actual Saint himself.

Valentines Day is a lot less dangerous now Claudius isn't around.

Valentines Day is a lot less dangerous now Claudius isn’t around.

So facts on Valentine are sketchy, but the main account we have is of a temple priest that would help marry Christian couples; sounds cute right? Except the year was 270 and Christianity wasn’t permitted under the Roman Empire, so he was beheaded by Claudius II. There’s also a claim it was the Bishop of Terni, who Claudius also executed. The accounts are remarkably similar so we’re not sure if they’re one and the same, if they’re both just victims of Claudius II, and if so which is Valentine.

Still, that's 40 more days than you've been pope.

Still, that’s 40 more days than you’ve been pope.

Whilst we may lack certain details on Valentine, we don’t lack any spare St. Valentines. To be specific there’s twelve St. Valentines in the Papal roster of Saints and before you ask, yes, most of them died in pretty unpleasant ways (the most recent a beheading in 1861). Why so many? Well Valentinus in Latin means strong or worthy so it’s been a pretty popular name to adopt (outside the religous too, we have three Roman Emperor Valentinians for example). There’s additionally a Pope Valentine, though he’s not exactly worth celebrating. He was only Pope for 40 days and practically serves as a footnote in any papal history.

Interestingly, Valentines day as we know it may have been an invention in Britain. There’s no record of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to “Parliament of Foules” which Geoffery Chaucer wrote in 1375. In his poem Chaucer describes the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day as the time for courtly love, writing, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” There’s no indications that this was actually the case until his poem became incredibly renown. He may have unwittingly started a trend for the Saints day that’s lasted nearly 700 years.

So if you’re thinking about the romance of Valentines, it really started with poetry.


From the Ellesmere manuscript. Chaucer really knew how to sit astride a horse.