14 February 2011

Martyr-Saint Valentine the Presbyter and Hieromartyr Saint Valentine of Terni in Italy

Saint Valentine (in Latin, Valentinus) is the name of several martyred saints of ancient Rome. The name "Valentine", derived from valens (worthy, strong, powerful), was popular in Late Antiquity. Of the Saint Valentine whose feast is on February 14, nothing is known except his name and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. It is even uncertain whether the feast of that day celebrates only one saint or more saints of the same name. For this reason this liturgical commemoration was not kept in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints for universal liturgical veneration as revised in 1969. But "Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome" remains in the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine the Presbyter is celebrated on July 6, and Hieromartyr Saint Valentine (Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Italy) is celebrated on July 30. Notwithstanding that, conventionally, members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) celebrate their name on February 14, according to the Typikon of the Great Church of Christ (Τυπικὸν τῆς Μεγάλης τοῦ Χριστοῦ ᾽Εκκλησίας).
The name Valentinus does not occur in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, compiled by the Chronographer of 354. The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." As Gelasius implied, nothing was known, even then, about the lives of any of these martyrs. The Saint Valentine that appears in various martyrologies in connection with February 14 is described either as:
  • A priest in Rome,
  • A bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), or
  • A martyr in the Roman province of Africa.
The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493); alongside the woodcut portrait of Valentine, the text states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. Various dates are given for the martyrdom or martyrdoms: 269, 270, or 273


The official Roman Martyrology for February 14 mentions only one Saint Valentine.

English eighteenth-century antiquarians Alban Butler and Francis Douce, noting the obscurity of Saint Valentine's identity, suggested that Valentine's Day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan holiday of Lupercalia. This idea has lately been contested by Professor Jack Oruch of the University of Kansas. Many of the current legends that characterise Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love.

While a website of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and other sources give different lists of Saint Valentines, the Catholic Church's official list of recognized saints, the Roman Martyrology lists seven: a martyr (Roman priest or Terni bishop?) buried on the Via Flaminia (February 14); a priest from Viterbo (November 3); a bishop from Raetia who died in about 450 (January 7); a fifth-century priest and hermit (July 4); and a Spanish hermit who died in about 715 (October 25)HI Rachel Garde.

Hagiographical sources speak of a Roman priest and a bishop of Terni each buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city, with each venerated on February 14. In the Middle Ages, two Roman churches were dedicated to Saint Valentine. One was the tenth-century church Sancti Valentini de Balneo Miccine or de Piscina, which was rededicated by Pope Urban III in 1186. The other, on the Via Flaminia, was the ancient basilica S. Valentini extra Portam founded by Pope Julius I (337‑352).

This, the earlier and by far more important of the churches, is dedicated to the less prominent of the two saints, Valentine, presbyter of Rome; this was the Basilica S. Valentini extra Portam, the "Basilica of Saint Valentine beyond the Gate" which was situated beyond the Porta Flaminia (the Porta del Popolo, which was the Porta S. Valentini when William of Malmesbury visited Rome). It stood on the right hand side at the second milestone on the Via Flaminia. It had its origins in a funerary chapel on the site of catacombs, which the Liber Pontificalis attributes to a foundation by Pope Julius I (337-352). However, the dedications of two basilicas dedicated by Julius are not specified in the Liber Pontificalis. It was restored or largely rebuilt by Pope Theodore (642‑649) and Pope Leo III (795‑816), enriched with an altar cloth by Pope Benedict II (683‑685) and by gifts of Pope Hadrian I (772‑795), Pope Leo III and Pope Gregory IV (827‑844), so that it had become ecclesia mirifice ornata, "a church marvellously adorned". The monastery of San Silvestro in Capite was annexed to it, and in the surviving epitome of a lost catalogue of the churches of Rome, compiled by Giraldus Cambrensis about 1200, it was hospitale S. Valentini extra urbem, the "hospital of Saint Valentine outside the city". But in the thirteenth century the martyr's relics were transferred to Santa Prassede, and the ancient basilica decayed: in Signorili's catalogue, made in about 1425, it was Ecclesia sancti Valentini extra portam sine muris non habet sacerdotem, "the church of Saint Valentine beyond the gate without [enclosing] walls, has no priest"

The Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine, compiled about 1260 and one of the most-read books of the High Middle Ages, gives sufficient details of the saints for each day of the liturgical year to inspire a homily on each occasion. The very brief vita of St Valentine has him refusing to deny Christ before the "Emperor Claudius" in the year 280. Before his head was cut off, this Valentine restored sight and hearing to the daughter of his jailer. Jacobus makes a play with the etymology of "Valentine", "as containing valour".

Historian Jack Oruch has made the case that the traditions associated with "Valentine's Day", documented in Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, had no such tradition before Chaucer. He argues that the speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-century antiquaries, notably Alban Butler, the author of Butler's Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. In the French 14th-century manuscript illumination from a Vies des Saints, Saint Valentine, bishop of Terni, oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni; there is no suggestion here yet that the bishop was a patron of lovers.

The flower crowned skull of St Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.

In 1836, some relics that were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina, then near (rather than inside) Rome, were identified with St Valentine; placed in a casket, and transported to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, to which they were donated by Pope Gregory XVI. Many tourists visit the saintly remains on St. Valentine's Day, when the casket is carried in solemn procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and all those in love. Alleged relics of St. Valentine also lie at the reliquary of Roquemaure in France, in the Stephansdom in Vienna and also in Blessed John Duns Scotus' church in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, Scotland. There is also a gold reliquary bearing the words 'Corpus St. Valentin, M' (Body of St. Valentine, Martyr) at The Birmingham Oratory, UK in one of the side altars in the main church.

Of greatest interest at this altar is the rich coffin which lies beneath it, containing the body of St. Valentine, a martyr whose relics from the Roman catacombs were given to John Henry Cardinal Newman by Blessed Pius IX in 1847.

The Saint Valentine who is celebrated on February 14 remains in the Catholic Church's official list of saints (the Roman Martyrology), but, in view of the scarcity of information about him, his commemoration was removed from the General Calendar for universal liturgical veneration, when this was revised in 1969. It is included in local calendars of places such as Balzan and Malta, where relics of the saint are claimed to be found. Some still observe the calendars of the Roman Rite from the Tridentine Calendar until 1969, in which Saint Valentine was at first celebrated as a simple feast, until 1955, when Pope Pius XII reduced the mention of Saint Valentine to a commemoration in the Mass of the day. It is kept as a commemoration by Traditionalist Roman Catholics who, in accordance with the authorization given by Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007, use the General Roman Calendar of 1962 and the liturgy of Pope John XXIII's 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, and, as a Simple Feast, by Traditionalist Roman Catholics who use the General Roman Calendar as in 1954.

The feast day of Saint Valentine, priest and martyr, was included in the Tridentine Calendar, with the rank of Simple, on February 14. In 1955, Pope Pius XII reduced the celebration to a commemoration within the celebration of the occurring weekday. In 1969, this commemoration was removed from the General Roman Calendar, but Saint Valentine continues to be recognized as a saint, since he is included in the Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church's official list of saints. The feast day of Saint Valentine also continues to be included in local calendars of places such as Balzan and Malta, where relics of the saint are claimed to be found.

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