St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilla, by Jacopo Bassano.
Today is the feast of St. Valentine, priest and martyr, who died for the faith during the persecution of Aurelius, around 270AD.
This feast had a place on the general calendar of the Latin Church until the 1970 reform; Mass is still celebrated in honor of St. Valentine on this day when said according to the 1962 missal, as at this blogger's parish. It seems that much of the world today is busy celebrating a traditional Catholic feast day; in most Catholic Latin parishes, where the 1970 missal is used, it is the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. In fairness, St. Valentine remains an entry in the Roman martyrology for this day, even with his removal from the general calendar -- so even in the reformed calendar it is still the feast of St. Valentine. We do see a rather striking feature of the danger of reforming a calendar when so many cultural associations have grown up around those days!
From the 13th century Golden Legend we have this account:
"Here beginneth the Life of S. Valentine, and first the interpretation of his name.
Valentine is as much to say as containing valour that is perseverant in great holiness. Valentine is said also as a valiant knight, for he was a right noble knight of God, and the knight is said valiant that fleeth not, and smiteth and defendeth valiantly and overcometh much puissantly. And so S. Valentine withdrew him not from his martyrdom in fleeing, he smote in destroying the idols, he defended the faith, he overcame in suffering.
Of S. Valentine the Martyr.
S. Valentine, friend of our Lord and priest of great authority, was at Rome. It happed that Claudius the emperor made him to come tofore him and said to him in demanding: What thing is that which I have heard of thee, Valentine? Why wilt thou not abide in our amity, and worship the idols and renounce the vain opinion of thy creance? S. Valentine answered him: If thou hadst very knowledge of the grace of Jesu Christ thou shouldest not say this that thou sayest, but shouldest reny the idols and worship very God. Then said to S. Valentine a prince which was of the council of the emperor: What wilt thou say of our gods and of their holy life? And S. Valentine answered: I say none other thing of them but that they were men mortal and mechant and full of all ordure and evil. Then said Claudius the emperor: If Jesu Christ be God verily, wherefore sayst thou not the truth? And S. Valentine said: Certainly Jesu Christ is only very God, and if thou believe in him, verily thy soul shall be saved, thy realm shall multiply, and he shall give to thee alway victory of thine enemies. Then Claudius turned him unto all them that were there, and said to them: Lords, Romans, hear ye how wisely and reasonably this man speaketh? Anon the provost of the city said: The emperor is deceived and betrayed, how may we leave that which we have holden and been accustomed to hold sith our infancy? With these words the emperor turned and changed his courage, and S. Valentine was delivered in the keeping of the provost.
When S. Valentine was brought in an house in prison, then he prayed to God, saying: Lord Jesu Christ very God, which art very light, enlumine this house in such wise that they that dwell therein may know thee to be very God. And the provost said: I marvel me that thou sayest that thy God is very light, and nevertheless, if he may make my daughter to hear and see, which long time hath been blind, I shall do all that thou commandest me, and shall believe in thy God. S. Valentine anon put him in prayers, and by his prayers the daughter of the provost received again her sight, and anon all they of the the house were converted. After, the emperor did do smite off the head of S. Valentine, the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty. Then let us pray to S. Valentine that he get us pardon of our sins. Amen."[cf., Fordham Medieval Sourcebook: Golden Legend]
For more on St. Valentine, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Valentine
Catholic Saints Info: St. Valentine
This site offers a splendid summary of the customs associated with this day:
Fisheaters: St. Valentine's Day
The Skull of St. Valentine at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Roma, Italia.
The relics of St. Valentine are kept in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. This basilica is much more famous for the La Bocca della Verita (The Mouth of Truth; prominently featured in the film Roman Holiday) that sits at its entrance. Not finding an official page for the Church, here is its entry at the ubiquitous Wikipedia: Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Roma.
Why the association with romance? The Old Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
"The popular customs associated with Saint Valentine's Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. Thus in Chaucer's Parliament of Foules we read:
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's daySo, may this priest and martyr of the early Church intercede for you, and for your purity!
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate. "