Random fact – of the one billion Valentine’s Day cards sent globally on 14th February each year, 85% are bought by women. Fellas, you really need to get your acts together and make sure you share a few thoughtful words with that special person in your life. A loving message in a card is worth a million roses – though if there are any roses going, she probably won’t mind those either.
If you’re looking to really impress though, brush up on your Valentine’s Day facts and your date will be eating out of the palm of your hand. We’ve done all the hard work for you…
Historians can’t agree on the identity of the real Saint Valentine. Some say he was a Bishop called Valentinus who, around AD 270, met a rather nasty end at the hands of Roman Catholic emperor Claudius II, who took to heart our V’s refusal to stop marrying Christian couples, and sentenced him to death by clubbing, stoning and, finally, beheading. What a charmer! Other legends describe Saint Valentine as a Roman priest, about whom not much is known other than that he too fell foul of the emperor and ended up imprisoned and slaughtered. So far, not exactly the stuff of greetings cards…
There aren’t many Valentines knocking around these days, but in his day, Saint Valentine had a pretty common name. In fact there are about a dozen other saints with the same moniker. The most recent Saint Valentine to enter into the Catholic Church’s roster of martyrs and miracle workers was a Spaniard who was beheaded in 1861 while serving as a Bishop in Vietnam.
There was even a Pope Valentine, though all we know about him was that he lasted a mere 40 days in the position. The appellation doesn’t appear to have been an assurance of a long and fruitful life, that’s for sure.
Saint Valentine certainly has his work cut out for him in the after life. In addition to being the patron saint of lovers, young people and newly betrothed couples, he’s also tasked with watching over beekeepers, people with epilepsy, plague sufferers, travellers, and anyone prone to fainting spells. So much for resting in peace.
One legend has the flower-adorned skull of Saint Valentine being excavated from a Roman tomb in the early 1800s, before fragments of skull bone were shipped around the world to be put on display in the churches of Italy, France, the Czech Republic and beyond.
The skull remnant shipment to Ireland was promptly lost, but rediscovered by a cleaner, 1500 years later, in the cupboard of a Dublin church. As you do.
The abundance of saints named Valentine gives you an opportunity to celebrate Valentine’s Day multiple times throughout the year if your heart so desires. So if an annual bouquet isn’t enough for your other half, set time aside for a spot of romance on 3rd November, when Saint Valentine of Viterbo (also beheaded) is celebrated.
Or you could schedule some New Year romance by celebrating on 7th January, when the only female Saint Valentine (Valentina) is remembered as a virgin martyr who died in Palestine in AD 308.
There are no records of mass celebrations of Saint Valentine on 14th February prior to a poetical reference by English author Geoffrey Chaucer. He refers to the date as the one on which both birds and humans find a mate – not with one another, thankfully. It’s possible, therefore, that Chaucer – who enjoyed playing fast and loose with historical traditions – invented the holiday as we’ve come to know it.
Legend says that while waiting to be executed, saint-in-waiting Mr Valentinus miraculously restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. He also inadvertently altered the course of love note history, leaving her a farewell note, signed ‘From your Valentine’.
Some say that the feast of Saint Valentine was established by a Pope on 14th February in order to cancel out a pagan festival called Lupercalia, which celebrated fertility and purification on that date. During the ritual, boys were encouraged to draw from a jar of girls’ names on slips of paper. A bit like Take Me Out, but with maypoles.
In the 1840s, Valentine’s Day went global when a young American woman in receipt of a card from her English courter, decided to introduce the holiday stateside. She produced and sold cards, one of which carried the message: ‘Weddings now are all the go…Will you marry me or no?’ We like the direct approach.
Discover more fascinating facts about the legend of Saint Valentine in this video…