Casanova of the church? A brief history of St Valentine, with Dean John Dobson

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It would be a very sad development if St Valentine’s Day no longer created a thrill and prompted expressions of love.

And, of course, it is enjoyed by the young and the not-so-young; those within long-standing relationships and those in new ones; and not least by those who are just hopeful.

But why does St Valentine’s Day encourage the exchanging of cards and gifts, romantic meals and weekend breaks?

Was St Valentine the Casanova of the church in its early centuries? Well, not as far as we know.

St Valentine actually died for his faith in Christ. He was a martyr (some believe that there were two men of this name who were martyred, in different years; but we won’t complicate things too much).

So, there is some passion there, dying a martyr’s death - but not the romantic type that we might associate with February 14.

This third century saint had been a priest and possibly also a bishop in Terni, in the Italian region of Umbria. He was put to death in 269AD under the orders of the Roman Emperor Claudius.

There are at least two suggestions to explain why Valentine became associated with lovers.

The first is that the day on which he died was when birds were thought to pair.

The second is that his martyrdom was on the Ides of (middle of) February, when the pagan Lupercalia festival was held. This (possibly) pre-Roman festival was thought to release health and fertility.

Well, whatever the reason for its modern observance, we would probably need to invent St Valentine’s Day if it didn’t already exist.

For Christians it is a reminder that we have an all-loving God who blesses those who love one another, as Jesus told his disciples they should do.

It’s a day the world does well to celebrate.