Saint Valentine and the Goddess Juno

On February 14 each year, Valentine's Day sends business soaring. Flowers, chocolates, and jewelry are on this day's most wanted gift lists to be exchanged between lovers. But how did Saint Valentine came to flowers, jewels, and chocolates? Or is he actually even the patron saint of lovers? For none of this has he done any work; it all involves an unusual inheritance that fell to him late in death.

First it must be said that there are at least three saints by the name of Valentine that were sainted by the Church. The wording 'at least' already suggests that there isn't much history but that lots of legends are on offer. A first Saint Valentine is said to have died in 304 in Viterbo as a martyr by beheading. This was the second attempt as in the first round he should have been drowned in the Tiber. As if by magic, he swam on the water unharmed. The historical content to this story is zero, but a thousand years later he would have been burned as a witch. His name day is on November 3. 

There is a Saint Valentine of Trier, who was bishop there and whose name day is celebrated on July 16. 

Another Saint Valentine was Bishop of Raetia (which is a large area with the city of Chur roughly in the middle). His mission was to convert the people to the true faith, as there were many Arians and apostates living in the area. In this he was a complete failure. He was expelled from the city of Passau and died as an itinerant preacher in Merano. He is the patron saint of the diocese of Passau and protector from epilepsy, convulsions, gout, and animal diseases. His name day is January 7; he shares that day with Saint Valentine II of Terni. He is represented with the crosier and a child at his feet. 

February 14 is the name day of Saint Valentine (I) of Terni and Saint Valentine of Rome. Maybe they were one and the same, nobody knows for sure. They both died supposedly at the hands of some Roman emperor of other. Both are said to have been executed by beheading on February 14. Saint Valentine of Rome is the patron saint of lovers, betrothals, and beekeepers. Saint Valentine of Terni is the patron saint of Terni, youth, travelers, and beekeepers and protector from fainting spells, epilepsy, plague, madness, gout and uterine diseases. Both should be shown with sword and cock, but are usually shown with crosier and child. Duplicate mentions are purely coincidental and are not, therefore, caused by the fact that all these stories were later inventions. 

Flowers, jewelry and chocolates are somehow missing in the list. These come under the exclusive jurisdictions of Saint Honoratus of Amiens, Saint Louis of France (King Louis IX) and Saint Lawrence of Rome respectively. Saint Valentine of Rome may show lovers in his jurisdiction, but that particular expertise was acquired over many centuries because his name day happened to be on the day people gave each other flower gifts.

The gifting of flowers on February 14 has nothing to do with any saints. On February 14 and 15, the Romans held a festival in the honor of Juno, wife of Jupiter. It was customary on that day to make a gift of flowers to wives and beloved women. Juno took over that festival herself; it had been known as the Luparia and was probably an Etruscan import into Rome. The Luparia was a festival of transition for girls turning into women, a rite of passage. This was the festival inherited by Saint Valentine. As an early Christian, he would have found that process entirely normal. Christians had already diligently plundered other religions' imagery, symbolism, symbols, festival dates, and even saints were eagerly acquired and made to fit.

If you want to visit Saint Valentine, you have many possibilities to do so. Saint Valentine of Viterbo can be found in that city, or so I am told. Saint Valentine of Raetia returned from Merano in Italy to Passau in Germany. Saint Valentine II of Terni can be visited there. Saint Valentine of Rome is said to lie in Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. A Saint Valentine can also be found in Hiltensweiler in Germany very nicely dressed up and ready for a chat. 

Saint Valentine of Terni has been scattered all over Europe (and maybe there are so many pieces that it needs more than two saints to account for them). Claims of having a piece of Valentine magic are made by Kiedrich on the Rhine, Worms, Mainz, Welschbillig near Bitburg, Krumbach, Heuchelheim, Olpe, Ockfen, Fulda (all in Germany), Vienna (Austria), Rouffach, Jumieges near Rouen (both in France), Ernen (Switzerland), Rome (Italy), Prague (Czech Republic), Wroclaw (Poland), Dublin (Ireland), and Glasgow (Scotland).

Further reading