Will the real St. Valentine please stand up?
Predominantly Catholic Central and Eastern Europe only began to celebrate the highly commercialized Valentine’s Day after the Fall of Communism liberated them from Soviet rule, but few foreigners know that besides the famed St. Valentine celebrated on Feb. 14, there is another St. Valentine mainly observed in Central Europe, which is the patron saint of epilepsy.
There is little factual data about St. Valentine of Terni (AD 226-269), who is mainly venerated in the Anglican Church, and now considered the lovers’ patron saint.
According to tradition, Bishop Valentinus of Terni was executed – beaten with clubs and then beheaded – by order of Emperor Claudius II on Feb. 14 in 269 CE.
His body was hastily buried on the outskirts of Rome, only to be dug up days later and returned to his home by his disciples. His feast day was instituted in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included the martyred priest among those “whose names are justly reverenced among men but whose acts are known only to God.”
For a good millennium after his death, his day was observed on Feb. 14, but wasn’t connected to love. Many of the current legends that characterize St. Valentine were invented in the 14th century in England by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, who popularized the saint with the public.
Although he is included in the list of Catholic Saints, lack of evidence about his existence and theories that his current figure might be a composite of several actual persons led the Vatican to remove him from the general Roman calendar, but he still remains in the Lutheran calendar of saints.
Central Europe’s St. Valentine was a monk, abbot and later a bishop of Passau in what is currently Austria. His life is just slightly better documented than that of the “other Valentine”. Indeed, there is no record of when he was born, only that he died of natural causes in 475 AD.
This “other” Valentine was and is still revered as the patron saint protecting people from a range of convulsive diseases, most notably epilepsy.
Title image: St. Valentine of Terni.