It is Valentine’s Day, and I have been looking at a particular modern legend and trying to deduce its real origin. In the process I came across a volume of Saints’ Lives, compiled in Spanish by Pedro de Ribadeneyra, and translated into English in 1730 under the title, “The Lives of the Saints: With Other Feasts of the Year”, p.185-6 (Google Books).
The entry for St Valentine seems to derive from that for Valentine of Rome, which I discussed here. I thought that it would be pleasant to scan it, modernising the spelling a little, and paragraphing, and post it. Here it is:
The Life of St. Valentine Priest, and Martyr.
Among the glorious Martyrs, that under Claudius the second Emperor, gave testimony of the true Faith, and shed their Blood for Jesus Christ, one was Valentine a Priest, venerable for sanctity and learning. Who being apprehended, was loaded with irons, and after two days brought into the emperor’s presence.
When Claudius saw him, he said mildly unto him, Valentine, Why dost thou refuse our friendship, and art a furtherer and maintainer of our enemies? I hear thee commended for a sober and prudent man; and I find thee on the contrary to be vain and superstitious. St. Valentine made answer; O Emperor, if you did well understand the Gift of God, you and your Empire should be happy. You would reject the devils and those statues which you adore, and you would acknowledge him to be the true and only God, who created Heaven and Earth, and his only Son Jesus Christ.
There was standing by the Emperor a learned man who spoke aloud to Valentine, so that all might hear, him; “What do you think then of our Gods, Jupiter and Mercury?” “That they were miserable Men,” said Valentine, “wicked, and that they passed their whole life in dishonest and filthy pleasures of the Body.” The man could not hold from exclaiming aloud: “He hath blasphemed the Gods and the rulers of our common wealth.” And as the Saint desired the Emperor to hear him with attention, and exhorted him to do penance for so much Christian Blood unjustly shed, to believe in Christ, and to be baptized, for this was the only Means to save himself, and enlarge his Empire, and even to get great victories over his enemies, the Emperor seemed to like the discourse, and willingly to give ear unto it; which Calphurnius observing, who was governor of the City, cried out before the people, “Do you see how this man is deluding our prince? Is it possible that we shall now forsake that religion, which we have been born and bred up in, and received from our fathers and grandfathers?” Claudius hearing this; and fearing a tumult and uproar of the People; bid the governor himself examine Valentine; and if he gave not a good account of his life and doctrine, to punish him as a sacrilegious person; otherwise not to condemn him.
The governor committed the case to his lieutenant, Asterius; who took the martyr to his house; who begged of our Lord to enlighten those that were blinded with the dark mist of idolatry, and grant them the knowledge of Jesus Christ, who is the true Light of the World. Asterius heard him praying, and said unto him: “I have always admired you for your singular Prudence, and yet I hear you say that Christ is the true Light.” St. Valentine reply’d, “He is not only the true Light, but also the only Light, that enlighteneth all Men, that come into the World.” “If this be so, I will make trial of it presently,” saith Asterius, “here is a little girl, whom I have adopted for my daughter, who hath been blind these two years: If you can make her see, and restore her the Light, I will believe that Jesus Christ is the Light, and God, and I will do whatsoever you shall appoint me.”
And with this called for the girl, to bring her before the Saint, who laying his hands upon her eyes made this prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, who art the true Light, enlighten thy Servant.” And at the very instant the child recovered her sight. And Asterius with his wife fell down at St. Valentine’s Feet, and besought him, that since by his means they were come to know Christ to be the true light; he would instruct them, what they were to do to be saved.
The Saint enjoined them to break in pieces all the idols they had, to fast three days, and to pardon all those who had done them any wrong; and then to be baptized; which if they did, they should be saved. Asterius fulfilled all that was commanded, and let at liberty all the Christians which he had in hold, and together with his whole family, in number forty six persons, was baptized.
When this came to the Emperor’s knowledge, fearing some great tumult might arise upon it, for reasons of state, he commanded them all to be apprehended, and put to death by different torments. And the father and master of them all St. Valentine, after a long and straight imprisonment, was cruelly beaten and bruised with knotty cudgels; and at length beheaded in the Way Flaminia; where afterwards Pope Theodore dedicated a church to God in his honour. St. Gregory maketh mention of this saint. He was martyred in the Year CCLXXI, in the Reign of Claudius II. upon the fourteenth of February, when his feast is kept.