Celebrating Valentine’s Day is for the birds. Or maybe, it would be better to say that celebrating Valentine’s Day is from the birds.
At least one explanation of why the Feast of St. Valentine is considered a day for love and romance has to do with what the Catholic Encyclopedia called “a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on Feb. 14, half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair.”
Geoffrey Chaucer, in his Parliament of Foules, noted that on St. Valentine’s Day “every foul (fowl) cometh there to choose his mate.” It was Chaucer’s work that popularized the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day in England. The celebration then spread to France and the rest of Europe.
Our Feb. 14 celebrations of the saint – actually there are records of at least four saints named Valentine – tend toward romantic dinners, kisses and heart-shaped chocolates. It has nothing to do with the remembrance of any of the Valentines, three of whom were believed to be martyrs.
Two of the four St. Valentines celebrated were listed in early martyrologies as having been killed on Feb. 14 in the later part of the third century. One has been described as a priest and another as a bishop, both from near Rome. A third St. Valentine is reported to have been martyred in Africa with a number of companions. The fourth St. Valentine was another Italian bishop.
In sacred art, St. Valentine is frequently depicted with a handicapped or epileptic child at his feet. Other times he is depicted carrying a sword. Not only is he the patron of engaged people and happy marriages, but also of beekeepers and young people. He is invoked against epilepsy, fainting and plague.
By the way, today, Feb. 14, it would be just as appropriate to wish a loved one “Happy St. Ammonius Day” as it would to say “Happy Valentine’s Day.” That is because the day for romance is not only the Feast Day of St. Valentine. In addition to this popular saint, 30 other martyrs, religious, and others who lived virtuous lives are also celebrated by the Church on this day. They include: Blessed Vincent of Siena; St. Vitalis, St. Felicula, St. Zeno, St. Nostrianus of Naples, St. Paulien, St. Proculus, St. Ephebus, St. Apollonius, St. Theodosius of Vaison, Blessed Nicholas Palea, St. Cyrion, St. Bassian, St. Agatho, St. Moses, St. Dionysius, St. Ammonius, St. Eleuchadius of Ravenna, St. John Baptist of the Conception, St. Lienne (Leone) of Poitiers, St. Maro of Beit-Marun, St. Bassus, St. Antony, St. Protolicus, St. Conran, St. Cyril, St. Methodius, St. Abraham of Harran, Blessed Angelus of Gualdo, St. Antoninus of Sorrento, and St. Auxentius of Bithynia.
Some scholars have suggested that St. Valentine’s Day became popularly associated with love and romance because celebrating the feast day was an effort to Christianize the celebration of “Lupercalia,” a Roman pagan fertility festival celebrated around the same time of the year.
It is also interesting to note that those Xs we use to symbolize kisses also have a religious significance. This act of placing an X with a signature goes back to the medieval legal practice of placing the sign of St. Andrew’s Cross – an X – by a signature to symbolize honesty and trustworthiness. In those days, contracts would not be considered valid unless a St. Andrew’s Cross appeared. Both parties would kiss the document near the cross to signify compliance. As centuries elapsed, the X became the symbol of a kiss.