“From your Valentine” – a modern legend, plus a bibliographical puzzle partly resolved

Anyone searching the web for information about Saint Valentine is going to come across a story where Valentine heals his jailer’s daughter, the two fall in love, and, on the morning of his execution he sends her a message signed “Your Valentine”.  There seems to be no canonical version of the story, so no two versions are quite alike.  One version referenced by Wikipedia – ah those “reliable sources” – is by Rosemary Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Saints, (2001) p.341 (preview).  This reads:

Little is known about the real Valentine. In fact, many early martyrologies listed two and sometimes three Valentines: a priest in Rome, a bishop in lnteramna (now Terni) and a third in Africa. Most scholars now presume that all three Valentines are the same man.

Most probably, Valentine either lived in Rome or was called from Terni to Rome as a consequence of his giving comfort to the martyrs under Emperor Claudius II, known as the Cruel. Imprisoned, Valentine, also a physician, reportedly converted his jailer to Christianity by restoring the eyesight of the jailer’s daughter. Brought before the Roman prefect, Valentine refused to renounce his faith and was beaten and beheaded on February 14. On the morning of his execution, he supposedly sent a farewell message to the jailer’s daughter, signed “from your Valentine.” His body was buried on the Flaminian Way in Rome, and his relics were taken to the church of St. Praxedes.

Another legend about Valentine has the priest surreptitiously marrying Roman couples when Claudius II, frustrated at his difficulty in taking men from their homes to be soldiers, outlawed marriage. In this version, Valentine languishes and dies in prison on the emperor’s orders but is not executed.

This unreferenced narrative is not a good account of the two sources, the passiones of St Valentine of Rome and St Valentine of Terni.  But anybody looking further will encounter a genuine scholarly work.  In Henry Ansgar Kelly, Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine, Brill (1986), p.59 (preview), we read:

There is nothing in the foregoing accounts of the Valentines of February to suggest a connection between any of them and the rites of spring, whether of birds or men, before Chaucer’s time. It was only centuries later that there was invented the story that St. Valentine of Rome wrote a farewell letter to Asterius’s daughter, which he signed, “Your Valentine.”[43]

Note 43 reads:

43. Frank Staff, The Valentine and its Origins (London. 1969). p. 122, says that “this little story is quoted from Kemmish’s Annual for 1797, and is reputed to come from ‘a very old book.'” A. Kemmish or Kemmisch was a publisher in Southwark; the British Museum catalogue lists Kemmisch’s Annual and Universal Valentine Writer. . . for 1805, but I have not been able to find a listing for a 1797 edition.

Kelly’s bafflement is understandable.  Kemmish’s Annual for 1805 is online here.  But a look at it reveals that it is just verses to be written to one’s sweetheart.  It can never have contained the material in question.  There does not seem to be any such Almanack for 1797.

I have found this bibliographical problem repeated in other places also – just where did Staff get his story from?

Staff’s book is not online, but fortunately a copy was available quite cheaply and arrived yesterday.  (On opening the volume my nostrils were assailed by the foul odour of a book left in a damp room. Booksellers must be the only trade to habitually sell unclean goods.)  The book itself is about the custom of “valentines”, the paper items sent at this time of year.  Only page 122 contains any background on St Valentine, and it deserves to be quoted in full.  There are no footnotes.


It is not known for certain which Saint Valentine is being honoured as the Patron Saint of Lovers on the 14th of February, because history records two saints of this name, both martyred at about the same time and both buried on the Flaminian Way, outside the Porta del Popolo of Rome.

During the Victorian era, when the giving of valentines was so popular, the story of the saint was often written-up in the form of articles which appeared fairly regularly as the Saint’s Day came round. Many of the writers more or less copied what had already been written before, but some, more serious, such as Professor John W. Hales, endeavoured to trace the origins and to give a more studious account. Professor Hales wrote an extremely interesting and learned article in the February 1882 number of The Antiquary. But it is thanks to Alban Butler, an eighteenth-century historian, who wrote an account of the lives of the saints, that the description and manner of the saint’s martyrdom has been recorded in the way we know. Some writers refer to Valentine as a Roman priest, and others to Bishop Valentine.

According to general belief, both the priest and the Bishop, who can be identified as the Bishop of Terni, a small town about 80 miles from Rome, were martyred in the same way and on the same day, the year varying between A.D. 270 and 273. This is repeated in the Encyclopedia Britannica which adds, “that the Passion of the priest Valentine is part of the legend of SS. Marius and Martha and their companions; that of the latter has no better historical foundation; so that no argument can be drawn from either account to establish the difference of the two saints. . . .” The account concludes by saying that The Martyrologium Hieronymianum mentions only one Valentinus: Interamnae Miliario LXIIII via Flaminia natale Valentini.

In a recent enquiry of the Comissione per l’Archeologia Cristiana in Rome, reference was made to the Enciclopedia Cristiana where it is stated that Saint Valentine was born in Terni, and is called a Roman martyr because in the year 273 he was executed in Rome, and because at that time Terni, which is within 100 miles of Rome, was under Roman jurisdiction. This therefore might be the reason for the confusion, the Bishop of Terni being referred to as a Roman Bishop. The Bishop of Terni is venerated at Terni, where, within a small Basilica to his memory, is an altar containing his relics. In the small ancient church of St. Praxedes in Rome is a glass-fronted wooden box which contains some of the bones of St. Valentine, together with those of St. Zenone. There can be little doubt that the Bishop of Terni and the Roman priest are one and the same.

From an unknown source comes the story that the Emperor Claudius issued a decree forbidding people to marry, because marriage kept men at home and the Emperor wanted all men to be soldiers and to fight for Rome. The good Valentine ignored this decree and invited young lovers to come to him in secret to be united with the blessing of the Church. Their secret marriages were discovered and the Emperor commanded Valentine to be thrown into prison and later executed. Another legend connected with the saint relates that whilst in prison awaiting his execution, he attempted to restore the sight of the keeper’s blind daughter, whom he had befriended. ” . . From that time the Girl became enamoured of him, nor did he treat her Affection with Contempt. But after a long imprisonment he was ordered for Publick Execution on the 14th of February. While in Prison being deprived of Books, he used to amuse himself with cutting curious Devices in Paper, on one of which he wrote some pious Exhortations and Assurances of Love, and sent to the Keeper’s Daughter the Morning of Execution; and being concluded in the Words, ‘Your Valentine’ there is great reason for supposing that to be the origin of the present Custom.”

This little story is quoted from Kemmish’s Annual for 1797, and is reputed to come from “a very old book”, but a moment’s reflection is sufficient to suggest this pretty little anecdote to be only fiction. It is perhaps unfortunate that the story is perpetuated by being related to schoolchildren and is sometimes quoted by greetings cards manufacturers. In this way, fiction and legend can so often be represented as fact.[1]

A simple Google search on “From that time the Girl became enamoured of him” instantly produced two results, which are really the same result.  It is not Kemmish’s Annual.  In fact it is a predecessor of the modern academic journal, “The Ladies’ Diary: or Woman’s Almanack… being the second after bisextile, or leap-year” 91 (1794), page 25 (here).  The journal was very interested in the study of mathematics, so this is by no means a trivial publication, at least in part.

The Ladies Diary, vol. 91 (1794). Cover.

The actual passage is this:

The Ladies’ Diary, vol. 91 (1794), p.25

I was unable to find the “Query II”, but plainly it asked what was the origin of “valentines”.  Three answers were printed, but only the first is of interest to us:

QUERY II.  answered by Mrs Diana Mason
I have by me a very old book which has the following account of Valentine being confined at Rome on account of his religion, and committed to the care of a man whose daughter was blind, whom Valentine restored to sight and from that time the girl became enamoured of him, nor did he treat her affection with contempt. But after a long imprisonment, he was ordered for public execution on the 14th of February. While in prison, being deprived of books, he used to amuse himself with cutting curious devices in paper, on one of which he wrote some pious exhortations and assurances of love, and sent to his keeper’s daughter the morning of his execution; and being concluded in the words “Your Valentine,” there is great reason for supposing that to be the origin of the present custom.

This is clearly the same story as that used by Staff, and is probably word for word identical with it.

But there is still a mystery here.  For the capitalisation and spelling in the Ladies’ Diary is modern, while that given by Staff is not – “Publick Execution”, for instance.  This spelling would tend to put the story back, from this witness at the end of the eighteenth century to the early part of it.

It is a blessing to have Google Books, and to be able to find material in this way.  It is unfortunate that earlier books are not so available upon it.  But we must be grateful for this relic of days when Google was indeed a public benison.

  1. [1]The John W. Hales, “St. Valentine’s Day”, The Antiquary 5 (1882), 41-50, is online here, but is merely concerned with English valentine customs.

The earliest mentions of St Valentine

Databases are handy things.  The truly wonderful Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity database at Oxford University allows you to search and see just what the earliest mentions are of the cultus of any particular saint.  Even better, it is open-access.

Today I did a simple search on St Valentine, Valentinus, and the results can be found at that site by this link here.  The sources identify two St Valentine’s, of Rome and of Terni, although both are celebrated on 14 February and they may well be the same saint.

The search is useful because every Valentine’s Day we hear the claim that the feast was just a rebranding of Lupercalia by Pope Gelasius I in 496.  No ancient source is ever produced for the claim, but this does not stop our mass media repeating it.

So let us look and see just what ancient evidence there is for St Valentine.  Let’s use what the Cult of Saints database tells us, with whatever else we can find.  I’ll highlight mentions of 14 February.  But these are very thin indeed.  Most of it is about the shrine of St Valentine, a mile along the Via Flaminia.

  • 354 AD – the Chronography of 354, in part 13, the Liberian Catalogue (here), records Pope Julius I building St Valentine’s Church.  Excavations at the site, which is one mile outside the gate on the Flaminian Way, have revealed a mid-fourth-century basilica, centred on an early fourth century memorial of some sort – presumably a grave.[1]
  • 366 / 384 – fragments of a marble tablet in Philocalian lettering, most likely by Pope Damasus, from the St Valentine church complex: also three other fragments from the same area, discovered in 1888.[2]
  • No later than 600 AD – the Martyrdom of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc of Persia (BHL 8465) is composed, with the Life of St Valentine of Rome embedded in it.  (English of the Valentine bits here)
  • Around 600? – the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (original material 430-450, but preserved only in a massively rewritten version from Gaul in 592) states in the entry for 14 February: “At Terni, at the sixty-fourth mile of the Via Flaminia, the death of St Valentine.”[3]
  • 625-638 AD – the Notitia Ecclesiarum Urbis Romae, a guide to the graves of saints around Rome, states that “St Valentine the martyr rests on the Via Flaminia, in a large basilica which Honorius restored.”[4]
  • 635-645 AD – the De locis sanctis martyrum states “near to the Via Flaminia appears the wonderfully decorated church of St. Valentine the martyr.”[5]
  • Soon after 649 AD – the Liber Pontificalis for Pope Theodorus mentions the building (or rebuilding?) of a church on the via Flaminia dedicated to Valentinus. (See below)
  • Soon after 685 AD – the Liber Pontificalis for Pope Benedict II mentions repairs to the church of Valentine, offerings there, and “in February after St Valentine’s day”. (See below)
  • 642-683 AD – the Itinerarium Malmesburiense records the church of St Valentine, and the renaming of the Flaminian Gate of Rome to Saint Valentine Gate. (See below)
  • 650 AD – the Gelasian Sacramentary (about which I wrote here) gives three prayers for the “natalis” (anniversary) of Saints Valentine, Vitalis, and Felicula.  (See below)
  • Before 700 AD – the Passio of Valentinus of Terni (BHL 8460) is composed.  (English translation via here)
  • 703 / 710 AD – the Calendar of Willibrod.  Various saints days in February including Valentine on 14 February.  (Latin and English at the database here).
  • 725 / 731 AD – the Venerable Bede in his Martyrology records the feasts of both Valentinus on 14 February.  (See below)

From this we learn that the earliest reference to 14 February for the commemoration of St Valentine is not before 600 AD, although no doubt the date was assigned earlier.

    *    *    *    *

I thought it would be useful to quote the shorter sources not otherwise linked.  Here they are:

Chronography of 354, part 13 – the Liberian Catalogue for Pope Julius I:

hic multas fabricas fecit: basilicam in via Portese miliario III; basilicam in via Flaminia mil. II quae appellatur Valentini;

This one made much building work: a basilica in the via Portese at the 3rd milestone; a basilica in the Flaminian Way at the 2nd milestone, which is called the Valentinian;

Itinerarium Malmesburiense:[6]

Secunda porta Flamminia, quae modo appellatur sancti Valentini, et via Flamminia; et cum ad pontem Molbium peruenit, uocatur via Rauennana, quia ad Rauennam ducit. Ibi in primo miliario foris sanctus Valentinus in sua aecclesia requiescit.

The second gate, the Flaminia, which is now called saint Valentinus’ gate, and the via Flaminia; and when it reaches the Milvian bridge, it is called the via Ravennana, because it leads to Ravenna. There, at the first milestone outside the walls, rests saint Valentinus in his own church.

Liber Pontificalis 75 (Theodore)[7]

Fecit et ecclesiam beato Valentino via Flamminea, iuxta pontem Molbium a solo, quam et ipse dedicavit et dona multa optulit.

5. He also built from the ground up the church to St Valentine on the Via Flaminia near the Milvian Bridge; he dedicated it and presented many gifts.

Liber Pontificalis 83 (Benedict II)[8]

Hic ecclesiam beati Petri apostoli sed et beati Laurenti martyris qui appellatur Lucinae restauravit itemque in ecclesia beati Valentini via Flamminea fecit coopertorium super altare cum clavos in fistellis et in circuitu palergium chrisoclavum pretiosissimum. Similiter in ecclesia beate Mariae ad martyres alium coopertorium porphyrum cum cruce et gammulas et clavos IIII auroclavos et in circuitu palergium de olosiricum pulcherrimum; necnon et in titulo suprascripto Lucine alium coopertorium ornatum de olosiricum. Fecit autem et calices aureos ministeriales II, pensantes singuli libras singulas.

2. He restored St Peter’s, and the church of the martyr St Laurence called that of Lucina. Also at St Valentine’s on the Via Flaminia he provided over the altar an altarcloth with studs and thin bands, with a very precious border around it, adorned with gold buttons; similarly at St Mary’s ad martyres another altarcloth of purple with a cross and chevrons and four gold-buttoned studs, with a very beautiful border all of silk; also at the above titulus of Lucina, another decorated altarcloth all of silk. He also provided 2 gold service chalices each weighing 1 lb. …

Huius temporibus apparuit stella noctu, iuxta vigilias, per dies, caelum serenum inter Domini et Theophania omnimodo obumbrata veluti luna sub nube. Itemque mense Februario, post natale sancti Valentini, in die, ab occasu exiit stella meridie et in partes Orientis declinavit.

4. In his time there appeared a star in the clear night sky, at about vigils, for some days between Christmas and Epiphany; it was totally overshadowed, like the moon beneath a cloud. Again in February after the feast of saint Valentinus, the star rose in daytime at midday in the west and sank in the eastern parts.

Sacramentarium Gelasianum:[9]

Orat. in Natali Valentini, Vitalis, et Feliculae. xvi Kal. Martias.

Tuorum nos, Domine, quaesumus, precibus tuere sanctorum: ut festa martyrum tuorum Valentini, Vitalis, et Feliculae sine cessatione venerantes, et fideli muniamur auxilio, et magnifico proficiamus exemplo. Per Dominum.

Secreta. Ad martyrum tuorum Valentini, Vitalis, et Feliculae, Domine, festa venientes, cum muneribus nomini tuo dicatis occurrimus: ut illis reverentiam deferentes nobis veniam impetremus. Per Dominum.

Postcommun. Protege, Domine, plebem tuam, et festivitate martyrum tuorum Valentini, Vitalis, et Feliculae, quam nobis tradis, assidue debita tibi persolvi precibus concede sanctorum. Per Dominum.

Prayers on the Commemoration of Valentine, Vitalis and Felicula. 14 February.

Protect us, we beseech thee, O Lord, by the prayers of your saints, that the feasts of your martyrs Valentine, Vitalis and Felicula may be venerated without ceasing and that we may be protected by the aid of the faithful, and that we may go forward by your magnificent example.  In the Lord’s name.

Sec. We come to the feasts of your martyrs Valentine, Vitalis and Felicula, O Lord, we meet in your name with holy offerings: so that, showing respect by these, we may obtain forgiveness.  In the Lord’s name.

Postc. Protect, O Lord, your people, and on the feast of your martyrs Valentine, Vitalis and Felicula, which you give to us, grant that our sins may be held paid by the prayers of the saints.  In the Lord’s name.

Venerable Bede, Martyrology – Valentinus of Rome:[10]

XVI. Kal. Mar. Natale sancti Valentini presbyteri, Romae: qui post multa sanitatum et doctrinae insignia, fustibus caesus, et sic decollatus est, sub Claudio Caesare.

14 February. At Rome, the feast of St Valentinus, priest: who after many public signs of healing and erudition, having been beaten with clubs, was also in this way beheaded, under Claudius Caesar.

Venerable Bede, Martyrology – Valentinus of Terni:[11]

XVI. Kal. Mar. Natale sancti Valentini Interamnensis episcopi: qui tentus a paganis ac vergis caesus, et post diuturnam caedam custodiae mancipatus, cum superari non posset, mediae noctis silentio eiectus de carcere decollatus est, iussu Furiosi Placidi, Urbis praefecti. Tunc Proculus, Efybus et Apollonius discipuli eius transferentes corpus ad suam ecclesiam Interamnanae urbis noctu, sepelierunt: ubi cum quotidianis vigiliis incubarent, tenti a gentilibus custodiae sunt traditi consulari Leontio: quos ille iussit medio noctis suis tribunalibus praesentari: et cum a fide revocari nec blandimentis nec minis possent, iussit capite caedi: qui non longe sunt a corpore sancti Valentini sepulti.

14 February. The feast of St Valentinus bishop of Terni: who, detained by the pagans and beaten with rods and, after having been subjected to the long, slow slaughter of imprisonment, when he could not be vanquished, was tossed out of prison in the silence of the middle of the night and beheaded at the command of Furiosus Placidus, prefect of the city. Then Proclus, Efybus and Apollonius, his disciples, transferring his body by night to their church in the city of Terni, buried him: when they were abiding there with daily vigils, having been detained by the Gentiles, they were given over for guarding to the emperor’s governing legate, Leontius: he ordered them to be presented before his tribunal in the middle of the night: and when they could not be called away from the faith either by allurements or by threats, he ordered them to have their heads cut off: they were buried not far from the body of St Valentinus.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with what is today called St Valentine’s Day.


  1. [1]Via Michael Lapidge, The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (2017), p.423.  Preview.
  2. [2]A. Ferrua, Epigrammata Damasiana, (1942) p.197-200; Trout, Damasus of Rome, 176-7.  I was only able to access p.176 in Google Books preview, which showed that the text is pretty unreadable.
  3. [3]Translated by Lapidge, appendix III, p.651.
  4. [4]Translated by Lapidge, in appendix IV (a) [§1], p.660.
  5. [5]Lapidge, in appendix IV (a) [§13], p.664.
  6. [6]Bryan Ward-Perkins, Cult of Saints, E07885 – http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E07885
  7. [7]Latin: Duchesne vol 1, p.332-3; English: Davis, The Book of Pontiffs, TTH 6, p.66.
  8. [8]Latin: Duchesne vol 1, p.363; English: Davis, The Book of Pontiffs, TTH 6, p.77.  Robert Wiśniewski, Cult of Saints, E01698 – http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E01698
  9. [9]Latin from the Wilson edition, p.167 – Google Books, English by me.
  10. [10]Benjamin Savill, Cult of Saints, E05525 – http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E05525
  11. [11]Benjamin Savill, Cult of Saints, E05526 – http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E05526

Sacramentarium Gelasianum – The Gelasian Sacramentary

Ancient and medieval church service books, or liturgical manuscripts, are a subject of their own, about which I know nothing.  Today I had occasion to find out something about the Sacramentarium Gelasianum, or Gelasian Sacramentary, so I thought that I would share it with you.

There are three ancient service books which have survived to our own times.  One of these is known as the Sacramentarium Gelasianum Vetus – The Old Gelasian Sacramentary (= CPL 1899).  It exists in a single manuscript, today preserved under the shelfmark MS. Vatican. reg. lat. 316 (online here; f.136v shows the material for Valentinus, for instance).  This was written in a Frankish monastery at Chelles around 750 AD.

MS. Vatican reg.lat.316, fol. 136v – beginning of prayers for the commemoration (natalis) of St. Valentine and others.

The text can be found in PL74, col. 1059.  A critical edition of the Latin text by H. A. Wilson (1894) is freely available online here. I believe that a modern edition by Mohlberg also exists.[1]  Other manuscripts, listed by Wilson, preserve a revised “Gelasian” type of sacramentary – the Eighth Century Gelasian or Frankish Gelasian – which does not concern us here.[2]

The book itself is simply titled “Liber sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae”. The false attribution to Pope Gelasius (492-496)  in older accounts[3] probably arises from the statement in the Liber Pontificalis that Gelasius “fecit sacramentorum praefationes et orationes cauto sermone” (“he composed a sacramentary with carefully worded prefaces and orations”).

The sacramentary is designed for a presbyterial type liturgy because it contains only material needed for a priest in charge of a “titular” church or a parish church, and nothing more.  It was most likely composed around the middle of the seventh century, say around 650 AD, because it contains modifications to the canon of the mass introduced by Gregory the Great (d. 604) but none of the changes of Sergius I (687-701) or Gregory II (715-731).

  1. [1]L. Mohlberg, Liber Sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae Ordinis Anni Circuli, Rome (1968) = Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Series Maior, Fontes IV.  These details via here.
  2. [2]The most thorough account that I could find of the Gelasian Sacramentary is Eric Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, (1998) p.44f., from whom I take much of what is said here.
  3. [3]E.g. J. W. Richard, Christian Worship: Its Principles and Forms, (1892) p.110.

An account of St Valentine of Rome from 1730

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.


Manuscripts and text of the Vita S. Valentini: a review of the article by Edoardo D’Angelo

I’ve started to look at the photocopies that I obtained three days ago of articles in the Bassetti volume of papers about St Valentine.[1]  Naturally my first interest is the paper by Edoardo D’Angelo, “La Passio sancti Valentini martyris (BHL 8460-8460b): Un ‘martirio occulto’ d’età postcostantiniana?” (p.179-222), as it contains a discussion of the manuscripts and a new critical edition.

The first thing that struck me about the paper was its position.  If I were doing a volume of papers centred around a single literary text, and one of those papers was a critical edition of the text, then I would most certainly place it at the front.  I would also insist on a translation.  Doing so would be the natural way to begin such a volume and present it to the public.  Instead it is the seventh paper in the volume, and relatively one of the shortest.

The paper starts with a list of manuscripts containing the work, which is really very useful considering the small space in which it has to appear.  There are 118 manuscripts in all, and two of a slightly modified  version of the text identified as BHL 8460b.  Seven of these date from before 1000 AD, two before 900; and a further thirty-seven from before 1200.  These are all given.[2]  The remainder sadly are not; but of course there is no space.

The origins of each manuscript are not given, but we learn that nearly all of these are Italian, and all of the early ones.  D’Angelo infers from this that the text has an Italian origin.  It is always risky to argue from survivals, but it is not improbable in any way that the Life of St Valentine of Terni should originate close by, in Lazio.  The other content of the manuscripts likewise relates to Umbrian saints.

The 37 manuscripts include a manuscript from South Africa, from the “Grey collection”.  I don’t think that I have ever before seen reference to a medieval manuscript held in South Africa.  I would hope that the remaining South Africans are photographing the manuscripts as fast as they can before the barbarian rulers of that unhappy land destroy them.

The wide diffusion of the text and the Carolingian date of some of the copies tends to suggest an early date.  The quotation of two sentences verbatim by Bede in his Martyrology (CPL 2032) in the early 8th century provides a terminus antequam.  The text is most likely therefore of the 6-7th century.

The standard reference edition of the text is still that of the Bollandists in the Acta Sanctorum (AASS), under February 14.  This was printed in 1658, yet D’Angelo tells us that “Tale edizione seicentesca, fondata su una base decente di codici, ha retto tutto sommato all’urto del tempo e dell’avanzamento della ricerca.” (“This seventeenth century edition, founded on a decent base of manuscripts, has all in all survived the impact of time and the progress of research”), which is fair comment.  The AASS introduction states that it was based on five mss plus the Mombritius edition; but the footnotes to the text come from three manuscripts; “S. Maxim.”, “Regium.” and “Gladbas.”, six breviaries, and two printed editions, the Mombritius and Surius.  D’Angelo has clearly not had the chance to pursue this very far, but suggests that the “Regium” must be one of the 8 mss in the Royal Library in Brussels – reasonable, considering that the Bollandists were working in that area – and the “Gladbas” is probably ms. 72 in the library of the Bollandists, previously from the monastery of St Vitus Martyr in Gladbach.

The editor has produced his new edition based on the earliest manuscripts, plus a handful from the next 37, which he believes to be from the same geographical area.  This is reasonable up to a point; but what we do not see is proper stemmatics.  We all know that late manuscripts can contain truth which is not found in surviving earlier manuscripts.  There is also the problem that this is not a literary text, but a hagiographical one, where the copyist may feel free to alter the text.  The article is not nearly long enough to explore these questions properly, and so the new edition is not really as critical as it could be.  All the same it involves various small changes to the text printed by the Bollandists.

One decision made by the editor seems to me to be absolutely mistaken.  He has not normalised the spelling: we have “michi” rather than “mihi”, for instance.  The logic here seems to be faulty: we are told that the mss vary wildly, that we have no idea what spelling the author might have used (although I do not see why we care), and so he has compromised between the spellings of the manuscripts, in order to avoid “alle pericolosissime tentazioni di classicizzazione forzata” (the most perilous temptations of forced classicization”).  But we do not do this in our literary editions.  The variable spelling of Shakespeare, or even Jane Austen, are not respected in modern editions.  Spelling was not standardised in the past.  This was an evil, not a good, and it was a barrier to communication.  The editor should have used the standard spellings, and noted anything he felt was significant in the apparatus.

Short though the paper is, the author has also been obliged to discuss whether the content of the Life of St Valentine is in some way historical.  The attempt is made to show that it might be.

We learn that many people suppose the events in the story to belong to the reign of Claudius II Gothicus (268-270), because that is the setting for the martyrdom of Valentine the Roman in the Passio Maris et Martha, which may or may not be the same saint as our St Valentine of Terni.  The logic of this is poor: there may be two separate St Valentines, or they may be the same one.

The Prefect of the City of Rome in the Life is given as “furius Placidus”, “the furious Placidus”.  The Bollandists treated this as a joke by the author, but D’A. identifies him as a certain absurdly named Marcus Mecius Memmius Furius Baburius Cecilianus Placidus, praetorian prefect from 342-4 and prefect of the city from 346-7.  Other not very distinctive names are adduced to suggest that the story should be set in the same period.  None of this seems much more than speculation.  Nothing compels us to believe that these are anything but coincidences.

  1. [1]M. Bassetti &c, San Valentino e il suo culto tra medioevo ed età contemporanea. Uno status quaestionis, Terni, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-8879885713.
  2. [2]The numeral for the shelfmark for the early MS in the Arch.Cap.S.Pietro has been omitted; unfortunate considering that there are 470 such mss.

From my diary

Today I had to drive for three hours each way for a job “interview” of around twenty minutes.  I already had a job offer, but I thought it wise to have a face-to-face meeting, and it proved very wise indeed.  The job looks like a stress-fest.  Not for me.

But I redeemed the travel time somewhat.  The road passed close by Cambridge University Library, so I stopped off on the way.  The volume that I wanted was waiting, for I had ordered it last night using the internet.  This was the Bassetti volume, San Valentino e il culto, on St Valentine of Terni, to which I referred in this post.  My intention was to photocopy the key articles within it, which I did, and then went on my way.

The most important article was Edoardo D’Angelo, “La passio sancti Valentini martyris…”, which contains a critical text of the Life of St Valentine that I have been translating, together with a list of manuscripts and an attempt at a stemma.  I have extracted the Latin text  of the Life, this evening, using my trusty Finereader 14.  It will be most interesting to see how and where it diverges from the text as given in the Acta Sanctorum, which I have been translating.  I’ve not seen any obvious changes so far.

One deviation is regrettable.  D’Angelo has decided to number the individual sentences of the Life, which is fine. But he also decided to ignore the section/chapter numbers from the Acta Sanctorum.  This is not fine.  It means that anyone with his text before them cannot locate material mentioned in any prior scholarship; they will have to find the Acta Sanctorum text.  Likewise any subsequent scholarship using his edition and numbering system will force the reader to obtain access to an obscure Italian volume of collected papers, held in relatively few research libraries.

D’Angelo is not the only editor to commit this sin. A little while ago I found that Zacharopoulos, a modern Greek editor of Theophanes of Nicaea (see here), did exactly the same.  This was even more of a problem because the Sotiropoulos editio princeps is almost completely inaccessible without an international flight.

Every new edition should always indicate the divisions or page numbers of the very first edition, the editio princeps.  It’s only considerate towards those who will use your work.

For Valentine, I might see if I can rectify this problem myself somehow, by giving a concordance or something on this blog.

    *    *    *    *

It’s slightly odd to think that I have made brief raids up to Cambridge like this for more than twenty years now.  It means that I have witnessed a lot of change there.

In fact every time I visit Cambridge University Library something is different.  It is not always better.  For instance some strange person has moved the photocopiers out of a dedicated room and scattered them around the building.  Staff are becoming used to bewildered visitors hunting for a machine.

Likewise I am not an alumnus of Cambridge.  It is merely the nearest research library that I can use.  Because of this, I have to pay a fee to use the library, and outsiders like myself are second-class readers in many little ways.

This time the change was about photocopying.  In reception I asked to put some money on my library card in order to pay for photocopies at the machine.  To my surprise they deducted some odd amount, on the pretext of the VAT tax.  A notice in the photocopier room in the West Room informed me that university members got their photocopies ex-VAT.

I confess that I wasn’t aware that national taxes on the supply of goods and services do not apply if you are a member of certain universities.  This sounds unlikely, in fact.  I suspect that the taxman will take a dim view of this approach, once he becomes aware.  But of course he shall not learn it from me.

The other thing that made me smile was that they made me fill out a paper form, in order to add money to my card.  I suppose we must expect pettifoggery from library staff.  The more conscientious they are, the better for the books, but the worse for low-status readers like myself.

I confess that, in my exasperation at all this tomfoolery, I expressed myself less politely than I might have done.  Luckily there was no harm done this time.  But it is always a mistake, as well as uncharitable.

I shall see what Bassetti’s volume looks like tomorrow!


Will the real St Valentine please step forward? – A look at the BHL

Valentine’s Day has just passed.  In honour of the day, I thought that it would be interesting to look in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina vol. 2, and see what it says about saints named “Valentinus”.

Rather to my astonishment, Abbyy Finereader 14 seems to be very good at OCRing Latin.  So here it is:

  • Valentinus presb. Ecclesiolae prope Molismum, ante med. saec. V. — Iul. 4.

Vita. Inc. B. Valentinus in Laticensi suburbano Lingonensium oriundus — Des. facile intelligatur. [8457

Act. SS. Iul. II. 41-42.
Exc. Bouquet, III. 410-11.

  • Valentinus ep. Ianuensis, saec. IV in. — Mai 2.

1. Vita. Inc. B. Valentinus, bonae indolis puer — Des. sine quo nullus nostrum esse potest, ipso adiuvante… Amen. [8458

Act. SS. Mai VII. 544; 3a ed. 535-36.

2. Inventio, elevatio, miracula. Inc. Huius talis ac tanti V~i praesulis, unde superius — Des. praesentem sentiret. Hoc quoque ad laudem et gloriam Christi… Amen. [8459

Act. SS. t. c. 544-46; 3a ed. 536-37.
Exc. Ughelli, IV. 1151-54; 2a ed. 837-38.

  • Valentinus ep. Interamnensis, m. Romae, sub Claudio. — Febr. 14.

1. Vita. Inc. Propheta loquitur ad Deum… Unde b. vir Interamnensis ep. — Des. a s. Abundio non longe a corpore s. V~i sunt sepulti, collaudantes Dnm… Amen. [8460

Mombritius, II. 343-44; || Surius, I (1570), 984-86; (1576), 1014-16; II (1618), 145-46; II (1875), 349-52; || Act. SS. Febr.II. 756-57; 3a ed. 757-58.

2. Epitome.

Petrus de Nat. iii. 122.

3. Translatio capitis Gemmeticum et miracula auct. Baldrico ep. Dolensi. Inc. prol. Qualiter bb. V~i caput Gemmeticum usque — Inc. Quidam qui sacerdotio fungebatur — Des. ab infirmitate illa curatus sanus egressus est. [8461

Act. SS. t. c. 758-62; 3a ed. 759-63; || P.L. CLXVI. 1153-64.

  • Valentinus ep. Raetiarum (al. ep. Pataviensis), saec. V. — Ian. 7.

1. Vita et translatio. Inc. In civitate Pataviensi inventum est sub nostro aevo — Des. ubi adhuc plurima fiunt miracula, quae facit… Amen. Celebratur autem festum etc. etc… [8462

Act. SS. Ian. 1. 1094-97; 3a ed. 728-33. — (Mut.) Surius, IV (1573), 474-477; (1579), 506-9; VIII (1618), 43-45; || Act. SS. t. c. 369-72.
Exc. Reschius, Annales eccl. Sabionensis, 282-86, 290 (partim ex libello genuino, partim ex Surio).

2. Epitome.

Bartholomaeus Tridentinus, Gesta Sanctorum (Lutolf, in Theologische Quartalschrift, LXIII, Tübingen, 1881, 469).

  • Valentinus presb. m. Romae, sub Claudio. — Febr. 14.

1. Passio. Inc. Tempore quo persequebatur Claudius Christianos, tenuit quendam presbyterum — Des. a) et sepelivit in eodem loco ubi decollatus est. [8463

vel β) ubi decollatus est, accipiens coronam vitae quam repromisit Deus diligentibus se. [8464

vel γ) diligentibus se. Ibi postea a Iulio papa fabricata est ecclesia… usque in hodiernum diem. [8465

Act. SS. Febr, II. 753-54; 3a ed. 754-55. — Excerpta est haec Passio ad verbum ex Passione SS. Marii, Marthae et soc. In quibusdam codicibus, servatis etiam primis verbis cap. 6 Passionis SS. Marii etc., Passio Valentini inc. “ Tunc tenuit Claudius quendam ven. virum…, [8466.

In aliis codicibus tamquam Passio S. Valentini profertur vel integra, vel paene integra Passio SS. Marii etc.

2. Epitomae.

Leg. aurea, c. 42. — Petrus de Nat. III. 123.

  • Valentinus ep. Terracinensis et Damianus eius diae., mm. in territorio Teatino, + sub Iuliano. — Mart. 16.

Passio et inventio.

I. Passio. Inc. Temporibus Magni Constantini piissimi imp. erat quidam vir — Des. usque in hodiernum diem. Passi sunt autem… Amen. [8467

II. Inventio, translatio, miracula. Inc. Postquam divina ordinatione — Des. Deum et ss. mm. eius V-um et D-um glorificavit. [8468

Ughelli, VII. 1351-60 ; 2a ed. I. 1284-89; || Act. SS. Mart. II. 428-31; 3a ed. 423-26: || Contator (D. A.), De historia Terracinensi (Romae, 1706), 493-502.

Exc. (ipsa pars ii) Act. SS. Mai III. 569-70 (3a ed. 566-67), n. 3 et 5.

  • Valentinus et Hilarius mm. Viterbii, sub Maximiano. — Nov. 3.

1. Passio,

a. Inc. Temporibus illis, quo Maximianus augustus regnavit post obitum patris sui Diocletiani augusti, ipso tempore interfecit sororem suam — Des. Qui ita martyr Christi effectus est in Dno N. I. C… Amen. [8469

Appendix. Inc. Supradictorum vero mm. corpora — Des. de Roma adduxerat; cuius… celebratur m kal. ian., ad laudem… Amen. [8470

Act. SS. Nov. I. 626-29, col. 1. — (Mut.) Nardinus (N.), Acta ss. mm. Valentini praesbyteri et Hilarii diaconi (Viterbii, 1684), 7-11; || Pennazzi (S. A.), Vita dei glorioso S. Eutizio (Montefiascone, 1721), 324-28; || Andreucci (A. Gir.), Notizie istoriche de gloriosi ss. Valentino prete ed Ilario diacono (Roma, 1740), 61-64; || Bussi (F.), Istoria delta citta di Viterbo (Roma, 1742), 444-45; || Assemani (I. S.), De SS. Ferentinis in Tuscia Bonifacio etc. (Romae, 1745), 169-72.

Exc. (ex libello genuino) Act. SS. Mai III. 459 (3a ed. 457-58), n. 4. — Pennazzi, t. c. 339-40. — Andreucci, t. c. 44-46, 56-57.

b. Inc. Tempore quo Maximianus augustus regnabat, misit edictum — Des. Qui inventus martyr effectus est in I. C. Dno N… Amen. [8471

Appendix. Inc. ut in 1a. — Des. de Roma addux., ad laudem… [8472

Andreucci, t. c. 51-55; || Bibl. Casin. III. Floril. 158-60; || Act. SS. Nov. I. 626-29, col. 2.

2. Epitome. Inc. ut 1b. — Des. et sepulti sunt in locum qui vocatur Cavillarius. [8473

Pennazzi, t. c. 333-35; || Andreucci, t. c. 48-49; || Act. SS. t. c. 625.

3. Inventio saec. XIV in. Inc. Gloriosus Deus in sanctis suis — Des. fidei postulantium impendebat, ad laudem… Amen. [8474

Act. SS. t. c. 632-34.

My what a lot of abbreviations!  For the newcomer, a couple of important ones.

  • Act. SS. is of course the Acta Sanctorum. This is organised into months, and then by the saint’s feast day date.  So saints related to Feb. 14 is in the “February volume 2” volume.
  • Inc = Incipit and Des = Desinit – the opening and closing words of the text.  Texts in manuscripts don’t tend to come with identifiers, so the start and end is useful.
  • The number after the bracket, “[8474”, is the reference number.  Refer to your chosen saint and the specific text about him as “BHL 8474”.

So… there are a bunch of saints here, commemorated on various days.

Only two of these are celebrated on Valentine’s Day, February 14th; Valentinus of Interramna (two texts, BHL 8460, 8461), and Valentinus of Rome (BHL 8466).  The rest we are not concerned with here.

Well, once we have the BHL number, we can do some useful Googling!  And … by golly it is useful!

It turns out that there was a conference in Terni (=Interramna) back in 2010, and the papers were published as M.Bassetti & E.Menestò, San Valentino e il suo culto tra medioevo ed età contemporanea: uno status quaestionis (Terni, 9-11 dicembre 2010), CISAM: Spoleto 2012, 368 pp.[1]  This includes a paper by Edoardo D’Angelo with a critical edition of BHL 8460![2]  There is another paper with a description of the manuscript tradition.  Sadly none of this is online, and I don’t have any access to it at the moment, but I know where a copy can be found.  Clearly I need to look at this.

The search also reminded me of the marvellous Cult of the Saints in Late Antiquity database.  They have a page with all the data on Valentine of Rome here; and another on Valentine of Interramna here.  There is even a summary of the content pf BHL 8460 here.  All of this is massively useful.

But the most useful item that I found was a page in Walter Pohl &c, Transformations of Romanness: Early Medieval Regions and Identities, ., p.200-201.  This is worth reproducing as a handy summary of the Valentine material:

The earliest hagiographic text associated with a city within the duchy of Spoleto is dedicated to St Valentine, martyr and bishop of the church of Terni. Already known to Bede who borrowed from it in his Martyrology, the Passio sancti Valentini martyris (BHL 8460) was written between the late sixth and the early eighth century.13 The existence of two different Valentines, one celebrated in BHL 8460 as the bishop of Terni and the other, a Roman presbyter, mentioned in the Passio sanctorum Marii, Marthae et filiorum (BHL 5543), still makes it difficult to assess who the ‘original’ Valentine was and where he was first venerated.14* However, the existence of two cults and two distinct hagiographic traditions hints at two different centres of promotion belonging to two separate ecclesiastical and political spaces: the episcopal city of Terni in the Spoletan duchy on the one hand, and Rome on the other.15

The entire narrative of the Passio Valentini (BHL 8460) takes place in Rome. The city as described by the anonymous hagiographer is an imperial capital with a strong cultural appeal: three noble students from Athens reach Rome to complete their education in Latin and, in order to do so, they choose magister Craton, an orator practising both in Greek and Latin (orator utriusque linguae). After witnessing the miraculous healing of the young scolasticus Cerimon at the hands of Valentine, the three Athenian students decide to give up on their education in human wisdom (studia humanae sapientiae) and to engage in spiritual studies (spiritalibus studiis) because, as the saint had reminded them, ‘worldly wisdom is deemed foolish in the eyes of God’ (sapientia mundi stulta est apud Deum).16 A multitude of students and the son of the prefectus urbi also publicly adhere to the Christian faith. The outraged senators then proceed to arrest Valentine, who is tortured and eventually beheaded at the order of the city prefect. His body is brought back to Terni by the Athenians who are themselves captured by the consularis Lucentius, sentenced to death and buried close to the saint.

[13] Emore Paoli, “La ‘Passio sancti Valentini’ (BHL 8460)”, in Bassetti 2012, 177. For the edition of the text see Passio sancti Valentini martyris, ed. D’Angelo, 211-222. Details from the text are recorded in the manuscript that has been acknowledged as the closest witness to Bede’s original martyrology (St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek 451,15-17).

[14] In the early Middle Ages, Valentine was commemorated on the same day in a basilica near Terni and in a sanctuary close to Rome, both located on the Via Flaminia. This would suggest that the same saint was at the origin of two cults, cf. Claudia Angelelli, “Roma o Interramna Nahars? Le più antiche testimonianze del culto di S. Valentino e il problema della “priorità””, in Bassetti 2012, p.127-158. Online at academia.edu here.

[15] Susi 2012, 291-299. = Eugenio Susi, “Il culto di san Valentino in Italia nel medioevo”, in the same volume.

[16] Passio sancti Valentini martyris, ed. D’Angelo, 218.

This summary again indicates the importance of the Bassetti volume.

Searching Google books for BHL 8460 brought up massive numbers of manuscript library catalogues, all in snippet view.  It’s clear that this Life of St Valentine appears in collections of Saints’ lives (Vitae Sanctorum) or “Legendaries”, in library after library.  An online manuscript is Paris latin 18305, details at the BNF here, and a monochrome set of images here, life on foll. 63-66v.  It starts thus, clearly with red lettering:

There are undoubtedly others online, if I looked further.

What I learn from today’s effort is the importance of the BHL for looking into Saints’ Lives.  A Google search is futile until you have the BHL number.

  1. [1]For sale at a “modest” 60 euros from the publisher here: there is also a lengthy description of the contents
  2. [2]“La Passio sancti Valentini martyris (BHL 8460-8460b). Un ‘martirio occulto’ d’età postcostantiniana?”.  It’s on pp.179-222.