Valentine’s Day is here. Most of us celebrate it in one way or another, however how much do we know about the history behind this celebration of love?
WHO WAS SAINT VALENTINE?
The famous holy martyr was born in Terni around 175 AD and became the first bishop of the city in 197 AD following the investiture of Pope Feliciano. The celebration of the saint was instituted in 496 on the initiative of Pope Gelasius I, who chose the date of February 14 to coincide with the ancient pagan festival of lupercalia, as we will see very widespread in the Roman period.
HISTORY AND LEGEND
For tradition, Valentine is the author of many miracles but above all earns the nickname of saint protector of lovers or “saint of love” when he celebrated the marriage between the Roman legionary Sabino and the young Christian Serapia.
Saint Valentine died on February 14 273 AD on the orders of the Roman prefect Placido Furio, during the persecutions ordered by the emperor Aurelio. His fault is precisely that of having replaced with a Christian religious sacrament the ancient pagan rite of the feast of fertility, the Lupercalia , consecrated to the god Lupercus.
His life, dedicated to the apostolate and ennobled by martyrdom, induced citizens in 1644 to proclaim him Patron of Terni. But the international notoriety of Valentine’s Day is due to the legend, born in the Anglo-Saxon countries, according to which he used to give his young visitors a flower from his garden. Between two of these young people a love was born that led to a union so happy that many other couples followed their example, to the point of inducing the Saint to dedicate one day of the year to a general wedding blessing.
Other sources trace the status of the Bishop to Saint of love to different events. For some, even the fact is absolutely casual being the consequence of a donation that Pope Paul II in the mid-1400 had bestowed on unmarried women on 14 February.
In any case, however, nowadays every year the Promise Festival is celebrated, which involves young boys about to get married and tight-knit couples with years of marriage behind them from all over Italy. The boyfriends come to Terni to exchange a vow of love in the Basilica of San Valentino, where the remains of the saint are preserved, to cement the promise of the next marriage. Married couples who have reached the twenty-fifth or fiftieth year of marriage, also participate celebrating the milestone and renewing their commitment to their relationship.
The current Basilica of San Valentino was built in 1605 on the remains of previous temples, and contains works of some interest, particularly in the crypt. Every 14th February, the celebrations for Valentine’s Day are concentrated around the Basilica, with the traditional market, events and prizes.
Every year during the month of February, Terni pays homage to Saint Valentine’s, patron saint of the city, with a frame of cultural, reflective, festive and liturgical events, as we have seen, aimed at keeping together the religious dimension of the saint’s celebrations and the civil one initiatives inspired by the evocative power of the same.