Father Frank O'Gara, of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, the home to the remains and blood of St. Valentine, relates the tale of real man behind St. Valentine’s Day, Roman priest Valentinus.
"He was a Roman Priest at a time when there was an emperor called Claudius who persecuted the church at that particular time. The Emperor had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died," Father O'Gara explains.
"I think we must bear in mind that it was a very permissive society in which Valentine lived. Polygamy would have been much more popular than just one woman and one man living together. And yet some of them seemed to be attracted to Christian faith. Obviously the church thought that marriage was very sacred between one man and one woman for their life and that it was to be encouraged. And so it immediately presented the problem to the Christian church of what to do about this,” says Father O'Gara.
He goes on to say, "The idea of encouraging them to marry within the Christian church was what Valentine was about. And he secretly married them because of the edict."
Eventually Valentinus was caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing marriage ceremonies against command of the Emperor.
Legends surround Valentinus’ actions while in prison. A man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind, was to judge him in accordance to Roman law. It is said Valentinus is to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became Christian as a result.
In 269 AD, Valentinus was sentenced to a three-part execution of a beating, a stoning, and eventually decapitation. He endured all of this because of his stand for Christian marriage. According to legend, the last words he wrote were in a note to Asterius' daughter. His words are the inspiration behind today's Valentine’s Day cards by signing it, "from your Valentine."
Father O'Gara explains, "What Valentine means to me as a priest, is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that, even to the point of death."
The feast of St. Valentine on February 14, the date of his martyrdom, was first established in the year 496 by Pope Gelasius I. He said Valentine is to be included among all those "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God."
Today, the Feast of Saint Valentine is also known as Saint Valentine's Day.
The name "Valentine", derived from valens, which means worthy, strong, powerful, was popular in Late Antiquity.
The flower-crowned skull of St. Valentine can be found in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. In 1836, Fr. John Spratt, an Irish priest and famous preacher, was given some gifts following a sermon in Rome. One gift from Pope Gregory XVI was the remains of St. Valentine and a small vessel tinged with his blood.
The Reliquary was placed in Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, and has remained there until this day.