First, a history lesson. No, don’t stop reading. This will be interesting.
There are seven St. Valentine’s listed on the Roman Catholic Martyrology. Three of these seven are possible candidates for the saint whose feast day lands on the fourteenth of February. Two of these three are quite possibly the same person. The third was martyred in Africa and almost nothing else is known about his life.
The Saint Valentine that we celebrate was martyred in the late third century, however the idea of courtly love didn’t truly enter the culture until the fourteen century. There are many reasons put forth as to why the fourteenth of February is associated with love. It has been said that Saint Valentine went against the Holy Roman Emperor’s orders that no man bound for the army was to be married, and married these couples in secret. There is a legend that birds are supposed to pair off on this day, which lead to Chaucer’s writing of the “Parliament of Fowls”. The crocus, which begins to bloom in February also carries the name of St. Valentine’s Flower. Whatever the reason or truth to legend, this is the day where tokens of affection are exchanged between those in love.
Now let’s skip ahead a month or so and inspect the seventeenth of March. A century after the death of Saint Valentine, a teenager in England was captured by a raiding party of Irishmen and brought to Ireland as a slave. He escaped back to England some six years later. Soon after his return, Patrick entered the priesthood and eventually was ordained a bishop and retraced his journey back to Ireland as a missionary. He and his disciples preached the Gospel across Ireland, building churches and converting thousands to Christianity. Legends are in no short supply when it comes to Patrick. One legend involves the burial of Patrick. There is a story that his body was placed on a cart hitched to two untamed oxen. The oxen were allowed to roam guided by the will of God
and where they stopped would be the final resting place of the saint’s bones. A slab of granite quarried from the neighboring Mourne Mountains marks this spot in County Down, Northern Ireland.
Interestingly enough there is a tenuous link between these two saints. Not only do they both have feast days that we still celebrate centuries later, but it appears that they may be buried on the same island.
The Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street in Dublin City claims to house the remains of Saint Valentine. Carmelite Friar John Spratt visited Rome in 1835 and was made a gift of Saint Valentine’s bones by Pope Gregory XVI. He was also given ‘a small vessel tinged with his blood’ according to a letter that was brought back with the
remains. This is refuted by St. Francis’ Church in Glasgow, Scotland and by several churches and cemeteries in Rome. All of them claim to have either his entire body or a portion as a holy relic. Regardless of the dispute, Whitefriar Street Church and its shrine to Saint Valentine see a plethora of visitors every year.
It is reported that in the U.S. alone, over one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent. Throughout the world, approximately 5.5 million pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout, are consumed, but on St. Patrick’s Day that number more than doubles to over 13 million! Cultures all over the world have embraced these saints and will more than likely continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
However, there is still one question left unanswered. Why do we celebrate ‘Valentine’s Day’ and not ‘St. Valentine’s Day’? We certainly don’t celebrate ‘Patrick’s Day’.
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