There’s a safe bet he was a martyr, if he’s a saint. But reports vary. Perhaps he was martyred because of his love for Christ. This seems the most likely occurrence, as Jacobus de Voragine maintains in the Golden Legend that Saint Valentine was beheaded for refusing to deny Christ before an “Emperor Claudius” in the year 280. Naturally, he performed a miracle at the time of his death, restoring sight and hearing to the jailer’s daughter. de Voragine suggests that Valentine’s name means “containing valor that is perseverant in great holiness.” The Catholic Church seems to have less faith in Saint Valentine, and the holiday has been stricken from the Holy Calendar, because his presence anywhere is hard to prove, really. Although you can go visit a nice casket in Ireland in which his remains are purported to rest.
Please note that there is nothing here about love or hearts or any of that rot–this seems to have been added later. No letter from Roman prison signed “from your Valentine,” no boxed chocolates, no roses, and certainly no humping. If Saint Valentine was a person, he was a person who died rather than renounce his faith.
The mostly likely explanation for Valentine’s day does actually lie with the Romans. Traditionally, February 15th marks the start of Lupercalia, a festival of cleansing and renewal. Lupercalia was a good time to initiate spring cleaning, early planting, and all that fun stuff.
Lupercalia kicked off with a sacrifice, and young men traditionally cut the hides of the sacrifice into strips and romped through the streets beating women with them. Women considered this an honor, and a stroke of good fortune–the whips were said to increase fecundity and general good fortune. By the way, they were called februa, for “purifying,” from which comes the month of February as well.
Clearly, the Christian Church could not permit this sort of behaviour. Sacrificing! Naked women! Beatings! So Saint Valentine’s Day was a logical bastardization–a day to celebrate your love of Christ, and pray for good fortune in the coming year, and it was of course like all Christian holidays, corrupted beyond recognition. Although perhaps threads of Lupercalia are coming through, since it’s now de riguer to get drunk and fuck on Valentine’s day, unless you’re single that is, in which case you long to have the day off from work so you can hide at home reading gothic novels. I can’t explain the move from the 15th to the 14th, though. I suspect that it may have been designed to get citizens too tuckered out with all that Jesus worshipping for Lupercalian shenanigans.
So do us a favour, oh coupled amongst my readers–don’t act so smug and high and mighty that you’re getting some, because this holiday isn’t about you, it’s about the original, the one, the only: Jesus. Or it’s about spring cleaning. Take your pick. And I swear to God, if I catch a single one of you making out on the streets, or in my place of work, today (or ever, really, good lord, get a room), you’ll wish all I had in my hand was a februa. Remember kids, you can get some any day of the year, so you shouldn’t make a ritual out of it, especially when there are more important things for the rest of us to do on Tuesday nights, like our sidework (if you’re going out to eat, please don’t eat late, and if you do, please don’t linger while the wait staff glower at you), restocking merchandise (so please don’t wander around the store arm in arm between makeout sessions staring glassily at scented candles), cleaning (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that late appointments are a bitch?), or, you know, working.
I’ll be cleaning the house tomorrow, personally. If you’ve got a roast goat sitting around anywhere, by all means come on over. For me, the big Jesus day is Easter, but we’ll discuss that later.