St Valentine and the Martyrologium Hieronymianum

Wikipedia is a fertile source of fake history.  Reading the article about St Valentine, I came across the following claim:

However, there is a reference to his feast day on 14 February in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum,[19] which was compiled between 460 and 544 from earlier local sources.

This appears around the web, as evidence that the feast day of St Valentine is attested as 14 February in the late 5th century.  That in turn then feeds into the huge, crude falsehood that Pope Gelasius I abolished the Lupercalia in 496, substituting St Valentine’s Day instead. In fact nothing of the sort is recorded in any ancient source.  In an older post I went through all the early sources for St Valentine here.

But what is the Martyrologium Hieronymianum anyway?  (It has the reference number CPL 2031) Well, it is a Latin list of dates on which certain martyrs are commemorated, with a preface supposedly by St Jerome – in fact not so – and which exists in a number of copies of the 8th century, which differ considerably.  Unfortunately it is also one of those annoying “texts” that does not really exist as a single item.

This happens a fair bit with certain genres of non-literary text.  Lawbooks, and church service books, and manuals of agriculture are not really books.  They are not literary texts, admired for themselves.  They are tools.  They are sources of information, which are inevitably updated in every copy with local information.  Consequently any discussion of them becomes a discussion of specific manuscript copies which still exist.  No two of these are alike.  But they tend to be grouped as examples of such and such a text.

Martyrologies are books of precisely this kind, constantly amended and evolved.  So there is no “Martyrologium Hieronymianum” as such.  What we have is a number of physical copies of a martyrology, attributed to Jerome in its varying prefaces, containing often similar lists of saints and dates; and often different ones.  The edition by de Rossi in the Acta Sanctorum for November, vol. 2, part 1, resorts to parallel columns, each derived from one of three manuscripts.  Here is p.20, with the entry for 14 Feb.

There we have it.  Valentine appears in just one of the three manuscripts, the “codex Epternacensis” – from Echternach -, which De Rossi tells us has the modern shelfmark Paris. BNF lat. 10837.  I learn from Lapidge, The Roman Martyrs, p.649 n. 3 that it is from the start of the 8th century AD.  I learn from Delahaye’s Commentarius Perpetuus in the Acta Sanctorum for November 2.2, p.92, that

…martyrologii contextus miserum in modum corruptus est et perturbatus…

… the order of the martyrology has been miserably corrupted and disturbed…

Which pretty much sums up what we see on the page.

The Echternach manuscript is online, and may be found here.  On folio 6v is our entry:

All well and good, except… this is not a manuscript of the 5th century.  It’s an 8th century manuscript.  The other two are both 9th century.  All three contain long lists of Gaulish saints, from which scholars infer that the ancestor of them all was at least significantly revised in Gaul at the end of the 6th century, around 592.

It has been argued that the base text in fact derives from Northern Italy, between 430-450 AD, and is based on three sources, none of which mention St Valentine: the Depositio Martyrum in the Chronography of 354; a Greek martyrology extant in Syriac translation dating to 411 AD, and a supposed ancestor of the Kalendarium Carthaginense, written between 505-535.

The value of these arguments must be evaluated by others, but what matters here is that, even by the 8th century, when the cult of St Valentine of Interamna (=Terni) was well established, only a single manuscript mentions it, and that only as part of a series of martyrs.  It cannot sensibly be supposed that this martyr was in the “original” text, whenever that was written.  If it had been in the supposed Italian base text, or even in the Gallic revision of 592, it would certainly be present in all three witnesses.

So the Martyologium Hieronymianum is of no value as a guide to when the cult of St Valentine was first established.  It certainly does not show, as Wikipedia would have us believe, that this cult was known in the 5th century AD.


“…whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God” – a fake quote

There are many pages around the internet which say something like this:

The feast of St. Valentine of February 14 was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”

But the quotation is never referenced.  Often it is not applied to St Valentine, but to St George instead.  Sometimes people mention the “Canon of Pope Gelasius”.

In fact the wording is an old – at least 19th century – and loose translation of a passage from the Decretum GelasianumLatin:

item gesta sanctorum martyrum, quae multiplicibus tormentorum cruciatibus et mirabilibus confessionum triumphis inradiant. quis catholicorum dubitet maiora eos in agonibus fuisse perpessos nec suis viribus sed dei gratia et adiutorio universa tolerasse? sed ideo secundum antiquam consuetudinem singulari cautela in sancta Romana ecclesia non leguntur, quia et eorum qui conscripsere nomina penitus ignorantur et ab infidelibus et idiotis superflua aut minus apta quam rei ordo fuerit esses putantur; sicut cuiusdam Cyrici et Iulittae, sicut Georgii aliorumque eiusmodi passiones quae ab hereticis perhibentur conpositae. propter quod, ut dictum est, ne vel levis subsannandi oriretur occasio, in sancta Romana ecclesia non leguntur. nos tamen cum praedicta ecclesia omnes martyres et eorum gloriosos agones, qui deo magis quam hominibus noti sunt, omni devotione veneramur;

Rendered in B. Neil & P. Allen, Letters of Gelasius I (492-496), Brepols (2014), p.160:

Likewise the deeds of the holy martyrs who beam forth among their multiple and excruciating torments the amazing triumphs of their confessions. What catholic could doubt that they suffered those things and more in their struggles and did not bear all these things by their own strength but by the grace and help of God? But according to an ancient custom, by an unparalleled security measure in the church of Rome both those deeds whose authors’ names are totally unknown and are thought to be written by unbelievers or private persons, being unnecessary or less appropriate than the order of the matter was, are not read: like those of a certain Quiricius and Julitta, like those of George, and passions of others of this kind, compositions produced by the heretics. Therefore, these are not read in the holy church of Rome, as has been said, to prevent even a slight chance of derision from arising. However, for our part, we – together with the aforesaid church – reverence with all devotedness all the martyrs and their glorious struggles, which are known better to God than to human beings. Likewise we accept with all honour the lives of the Fathers, Paul, Antony, Hilarion, and all the hermits, those at least which the most blessed Jerome wrote.48

The reference to St George is genuine –  indeed a 5th century “Life” of St George exists, which is indeed rather dreadful and probably heretical.  But this has nothing to do with St Valentine.


“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? or 900? – 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] (But see this post).
  • 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 –
  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 –
  9. [9]Latin from the Wilson edition, p.167 – Google Books, English by me.
  10. [10]Benjamin Savill, Cult of Saints, E05525 –
  11. [11]Benjamin Savill, Cult of Saints, 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, 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.


Did Pope Gelasius create St Valentine’s Day as a replacement for the Lupercalia?

Something weird has begun to happen over the last couple of years.   Twitter is filling up with claims that “Christmas is really pagan”; the same for Easter (!), St Valentine’s Day – indeed for every single Christian holiday.  This is new, and started maybe in 2018, and now has become very commonplace.  The object is without a doubt to diminish the Christian significance of American holidays.  I get the impression that this may be part of the anti-Trump reaction.  It is clearly orchestrated, and obviously a nuisance.

This year I came across the claim that St Valentine’s Day is really the Lupercalia (!), and that Pope Gelasius I abolished the Lupercalia and created St Valentine’s Day instead.  One website calling itself “” claims:

In the late 5th century A.D., Pope Gelasius I eliminated the pagan celebration of Lupercalia and declared February 14 a day to celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine instead, although it’s highly unlikely he intended the day to commemorate love and passion.

And the same website on another page:

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.

Google helpfully puts these pages at the very top of the search results if you look for information.  They seem to be drawing on an article which otherwise appears a bit further down, National Public Radio, The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day, Feb. 13, 2011, which claims:

Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, “It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.”

Lenski is “Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder”.  Of course he may well have been misrepresented by this journalist.  But is this true?  Did Gelasius establish St Valentine’s Day on February 14?

In a 1931 article,[1]William M. Green indicates that Cardinal Baronius must take some responsibility for all this.

… in almost all the discussions of the institution it is said that Pope Gelasius in 494 converted the pagan festival into the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin (=Candlemas). This conjecture of Cardinal Baronius[4] was based on the fact that Gelasius had suppressed the pagan festival, and that the quadragesima Epiphaniae (February 14), the earliest form of the Christian festival, so nearly coincided with its date, February 15. Usener and later writers on Christian ritual [5] have recognized Baronius’ mistake…

4. C. Baronius, Annales Ecclesiastici (Barri-Ducis; L. Guerin, 1864-83), IX, 603.
5. H. Usener, Weihnachtsfest (Bonn: Cohen, 1889), p. 318; T. Barnes, “Candlemas” in Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Scribner’s, 1908-190; L. Duchesne, Christian Worship5 (London: SPCK, 1923), p.271.

So the modern idea that the Lupercalia turned into St Valentine’s Day is itself a bastardisation of an older idea, that the Lupercalia turned into Candlemas.

We do know that Gelasius did abolish the Lupercalia.  In Letter 100, to Andromachus, in the Collectio Avellana he explicitly says so, and defends his action to his noble correspondent by attacking the remains of the Lupercalia as a degraded superstition.  (I was unaware until now that an edition of this exists in the Sources Chretiennes series, 65).[2]

Another article by Jack B. Oruch is more forthright:[3]

The idea that Valentine’s Day customs perpetuated those of the Roman Lupercalia has been accepted uncritically and repeated, in various forms, up to the present.22 Most of those who offer this now traditional explanation cite no sources or refer only to Butler or Douce. But John W. Hales, in the most substantial and reasonable article written about Valentine’s Day, correctly pointed out that the Lupercalia never involved the pairing of lovers or a lottery.23 As far as I can determine, the first suggestions of a lottery of lovers on Valentine’s Day occur in the fifteenth century in poems of Lydgate and Charles d’Orleans, discussed below; the only known attempt to suppress the practice and substitute the names of saints was that of St. Francis de Sales early in his career as bishop at Annecy (1603).24 Butler’s ideas were prompted, in all probability, by a confused knowledge of the date of this isolated event; a less charitable explanation would attribute his remarks to wishful or pious fantasy.

The most complex version of this story – one that links the Lupercalia, Valentine, and Chaucer – has recently been put forth by Alfred L. Kellogg and Robert C. Cox[4]… According to Kellogg and Cox, the process by which St. Valentine became a “fertility figure” was an indirect and accidental one. They report: “When, in 495, Pope Gelasius finally abolished the Lupercalia, his procedure followed the accepted pattern. He set in its place a Christian festival of comparable meaning and almost exact date – the Purification of the Virgin, or Candlemas, celebrated on February 14” (p. 112). Then, after the date of the observance of Candlemas was “transferred from February 14 to February 2” (to accord with the fixing of the date of Christ’s birth at December 25), Valentine in some unknown way inherited the associations of the Virgin Mary with purification and fertility. Unfortunately, the account thus far is based upon faulty assumptions and misunderstood data.

Informed scholarship offers nothing to support the claim that Gelasius I “baptized” the Lupercalia by supplanting it with the Feast of the Purification…. Other medieval writers [than Bede] gave different explanations of the origin of the Feast of the Purification, but not until the unfortunate conjectures of Cardinal Baronius in the sixteenth century was the particular pagan festival behind Candlemas. said to be the Lupercalia.29 While the church did supplant some pagan customs with Christian ones, in the present case the similarities between the Lupercalia and Candlemas appear to be fortuitous and negligible. To suggest a place for St. Valentine in a history already marked by so much speculation is pointless.

Which is pretty direct.  There’s simply no evidence, apparently, of any connection with St Valentine.

I’m not quite clear how we discover what the early evidence is for the celebration of a saint’s day.  It appears that we must look at early service books, and this is rather an area outside of my knowledge.

The so-called Gelasian Sacramentary does indeed have prayers in natali Valentini, Vitalis et Feliculae on xvi Kal. Martias, i.e. 14th February.  (How interesting to see natalis used to indicate an anniversary, rather than a  birthday!).[5]  This has reached us in a Vatican manuscript (Ms. reg. lat. 316), written around 750 at the nunnery of Chelles near Paris.  The original text was probably composed in Rome between 628-715.[6]

I do wonder how we could find out when the feast of St Valentine was first celebrated!

UPDATE: I have just heard from Dr Lenski, disclaiming any responsibility for the mangled comments attributed to him in that NPR article.

UPDATE (18 Feb 2022): I have finally worked out how to find out the earliest references to the feast of St Valentine, and written about it here.

  1. [1]William M. Green, “The Lupercalia in the Fifth Century”, Classical Philology 26 (1931), 60-69.  JSTOR.
  2. [2]Gélase Ier : Lettre contre les Lupercales et Dix-huit messes du Sacramentaire léonien. SC65, 1960.
  3. [3]Jack B. Oruch, “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February”, Speculum 56 (1981). 534-65.  JSTOR.
  4. [4]25. “Chaucer’s St. Valentine: A Conjecture,” in Alfred L. Kellogg, Chaucer, Langland, Arthur: Essays in Middle English Literature (New Brunswick, N.J., 1972), p. 108.
  5. [5]H.A.Wilson, The Gelasian Sacramentary. Liber Sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae, Oxford, 1894, p.167.
  6. [6]Joseph M. Lynch, Christianizing Kinship, p.29. Google Books.

Valentine of Rome (BHL 8465) – extracts from the Passiones of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc (BHL 5543)

I mentioned that I would not be translating the “Passio” of St Valentine of Rome, priest (BHL 8465), because it was in fact just an extract from the Passiones of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc (BHL 5543); and that these had been translated rather splendidly by Michael Lapidge.[1]  But very few people will ever see the Lapidge volume, and the interest in Saint Valentine is renewed every year.  So perhaps I might be permitted to give the St Valentine portions of that text, without footnotes, here.

I have over-paragraphed it for readability online.  I’ve also inserted the start-position of each of the 5 lectiones from the Acta Sanctorum text, although I’ve not compared the two word for word, except at the end.

[Lect. I] 6. Then Claudius arrested a certain holy man named Valentine, a priest, and shut him in prison, bound with shackles and chains. After two days he ordered him to be brought before him in his palace near the amphitheatre. When he was brought into his presence, he said to him: ‘Why do you not make use of my friendship, and live with the commonwealth of our state? I hear marvellous things about your wisdom; yet although you are wise, you cause offence by your vain superstition.’

Valentine the priest said in reply: ‘If you knew God’s gift, you too would rejoice, and your state with you, if you were to reject demons and handmade idols, and to confess one God, the Father omnipotent, and Jesus Christ, His Son, the Creator of all things, “Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all things which are in them”.’

A certain legal adviser (legisconsultor), who was standing near Claudius, replied, saying in a clear voice to Valentine, the priest: ‘What is your opinion concerning the god Jupiter, or Mercury?’

Valentine the priest said in reply: ‘I say nothing concerning them except that I know them to be wretched and foul men, who lived their lifetimes in filth and carnal delights and scorn of their bodies. And if you were to show to me their ancestry, you would see how foul they were.’

[Lect. II] The legal adviser replied out loud: ‘He has blasphemed the gods and the rulers of our state.’

7. On the same day Claudius was listening more patiently, and said in reply to Valentine: ‘If Christ is God, why do you not reveal to me what is the truth?’

Valentine the priest replied: ‘Let your majesty hear it. Listen to me, O king, and your soul will be saved, and your state will be increased, and your enemies will be eliminated, and in all undertakings you will be the victor; you will enjoy dominion in this life and in the future world. I admonish you in respect of one thing, that you repent for the blood of saints which you have spilled, and believe in Christ, and thus be baptized: and you will be saved.’

Then Claudius said to those standing near him: ‘Listen, Roman citizens and assembly of the republic, to what a sane doctrine is being revealed by this man.’

In reply, Calpurnius the prefect said aloud: ‘You have been deceived, Your Highness, by false teachings: but if it is right that we abandon what we have worshipped and adored from our infancy, you decide.’

[Lect. III] 8. At that same time Claudius changed his mind and in sadness handed him over to Calpurnius the prefect, saying: ‘Listen patiently to him, and if what he says is not sane counsel, do to him what the laws stipulate for sacrilege; if not, let his just petition be heard.’

Then taking Valentine the priest, Calpurnius the prefect handed him over to a certain Asterius, his chief officer (princeps), saying: ‘If you can reduce him by gentle persuasion, I will report your accomplishment to Claudius, and you will be his friend, and he will enrich you with riches and possessions.’

Taking him, Asterius led him to his own home. When he entered the house of Asterius, Valentine the priest fell to his knees and prayed, saying, ‘O God, Maker of all things visible and invisible, and Creator of the human race, Who sent Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ that You might free us from this world and lead us from the shadows to the true light, Who commanded us by saying, “Come unto me all who labour and are heavily laden, and I will refresh you”; convert this house, and grant light to it after the shadows, that it may recognize You as God and Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.’

[Lect. IV] 9. Hearing this, Asterius the agent said to Valentine the priest: ‘I admire your good sense, in that you say that your Christ is light.’

In reply Valentine said in a clear voice, ‘And truly, because Jesus Christ the Lord, Who was born of the Holy Spirit and Mary the virgin, is the true light, Who illuminates every man who comes into this world.’

Asterius replied, saying: ‘If He illuminates every man, I shall now establish if He is God; if not, I shall extinguish your folly. I have an adoptive daughter, whom I have loved since infancy, and suddenly two years ago she was blinded and disfigured by cataracts. I shall bring her to you; and when she is cured, I will do everything you ask of me.’ Valentine the priest therefore replied: ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, bring her to me.’

Running off in some anxiety, Asterius brought the blind girl to Valentine the priest. Raising his hands to the heavens, Valentine, his eyes flowing with tears, said: ‘O Lord God Almighty, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies, Who sent Your Son Our Lord Jesus Christ to earth, so that You could lead us from the shadows to the true light, I call upon You as an unworthy sinner. But because You save all souls, and wish no one to perish, I therefore beseech Your mercy, so that all people may recognize that You are God, and the Father of all things and their Creator, Who opened the eyes in a man born blind, and even raised up Lazarus from the tomb when his corpse was already rotting. I invoke You, Who are the true light, and the Lord of Principalities and Powers; let not “my will but Yours be done” over this girl Your servant, that You may deign to illumine her with the light of Your intelligence.’ And he placed his hand on her eyes, saying: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, illuminate Your servant, because You are the true light.’ And when he had said this, her eyes were opened.

[Lect. V]  10. When Asterius saw this, he and his wife fell at the feet of the blessed Valentine, and spoke as follows, saying: ‘Let us pray through Christ, through Whom we recognize the light, that you do what you know how to do, so that our souls may be saved.’

Valentine replied and said, ‘Do, therefore, what I say, and if you believe with all your heart, destroy all idols, and fast, and drop the charges against all (prisoners); let someone be baptized in making confession, and he shall be saved.’

Then he enjoined upon them a three-day fast. And because Asterius had many of the Christians in custody, he released them all. And when the three days of the fast were finished, and it was Sunday, Valentine baptized Asterius, together with all his household. And he summoned Callistus, the bishop, to him; when he arrived, he made the sign of the Cross on Asterius and his entire household—nearly forty-six persons of both sexes.

11. When Marius and his wife Martha, together with their sons, Audifax and Abacuc, heard of this event, that a blind girl had been illuminated by St Valentine and that as a result of the healing the entire household of Asterius had become believers, they came with great joy to the house of Asterius, giving thanks to God, and they remained there thirty-two days.

At the end of this time Claudius summoned Asterius, the chief officer (princeps). And it was reported to him that a girl had been healed of blindness in his house, and as a result of this miracle he had been baptized by Valentine in the name of Christ, together with his entire household.

Enraged, Claudius sent soldiers, and arrested all those whom he found in the house of Asterius. When they were brought before him in chains, among them being Marius and Martha, Audifax and Abacuc, all aristocrats from Persia who had come to pray at the shrines of the apostles, he ordered them to be separated from the assembly of other Christians, commanding that Asterius, with all his household be led in chains to Ostia, there to undergo trial with interrogation by means of torture.


15. The emperor [Claudius] ordered that Marius and Martha, Audifax, and Abacuc should be kept for him, so that he could hear them in private audience; but he ordered that Valentine the priest should be beaten with staves and then undergo the sentence of capital punishment. He was beheaded on the Via Flaminia on 14 February. A certain matron, named Savinilla, recovered his body and buried it in the same place where he was beheaded; ** the Lord performs many miracles there, to the praise and glory of His name.

The section that I have omitted from the Passio of Marius etc, marked with *, is likewise omitted from the extracts.  But the text of the Valentine material does change, after the **.  Instead of the “the Lord performs many miracles there, to the praise and glory of His name.”, we have:

accipiens coronam vitae, quam repromisit Deus diligentibus se. *** Ibi postea a Iulio Papa fabricata est ecclesia in honorem S. Valentini Presbyteri et Martyris, [ei ecclesia construitur.] et mirifice decorata, in qua devote petentibus beneficia Domini praestantur usque in hodiernum diem.

receiving the crown of life, which God has promised to those devoted to him.  *** There afterwards a church was built by Pope Julius in honour of St Valentine, priest and martyr, [the church was constructed for him] and adorned marvellously, in which the blessings of God for those who seek them devoutly shine forth until our own day.

Even in this, there are variations.  The text above is given only in the “Roman” manuscript used by the Acta Sanctorum editors; many of the breviaries that they used have yet another piece of text instead:

capite plexum iuxta pontem Milvium, ubi postea S. Theodorus Papa ecclesiam Martyris nomine aedificavit, multisque locupletavit donis.

capite plexum near the Milvian Bridge, where later Pope Saint Theodore built a church in the name of the martyr, and enriched it with many gifts.

Not sure what “capite plexum” can mean – is it something about the head being buried there?

All this chopping and changing suggests that this “St Valentine” text, BHL 8465, being merely a set of extracts, was amended as those copying it saw fit.  But then we are not dealing with a literary text here, after all, but a hagiographical one, where such tampering is routine.

Returning to the main text, it is interesting to see that the Latin “Seductus es” is rendered as “You have been deceived”.  I’d wondered how to render this myself, perhaps as “You have been led astray”?

It is notable that in this text also, there is no romantic element.

  1. [1]Michael Lapidge, The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary, Oxford University Press (2017), 420-435.

How to approach translating hagiography; St Valentine of Rome; and why I won’t translate his “Life” (BHL 8465)

I pressed “Publish”.  My post with my translation of the Passio of St Valentine of Terni shot out onto the internet.  What now?

I found myself thinking about the “other” St Valentine, Valentine of Rome, the priest.  I went back to the Acta Sanctorum, February vol. 2, for February 14th, and looked at the material there.  I obtained the electronic text, including introduction and footnotes, and created a Word file; then fixed up the Latin by getting rid of ligatures, and the Word file by setting the paragraph margins to zero, left and right.

The text was in five Lectiones.  It was printed from two manuscripts and a breviary.  There was reference to a “Ms. Ultraiectinum S. Salvatoris”.  After a bit of guesswork, this turned out to be the church of St Saviour, part of the Cathedral of Utrecht.  Another manuscript was mentioned, which I could not identify.

But clearest of all was that this “passio” was merely a selection from a long work, the Acts of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abachum, printed in the Acta Sanctorum under January vol. 2, for January 19!  If so, why bother with it?  No wonder it was just extracts from breviaries.  It would be better, surely, to translate the full Acts.

So off I went to the January vol. 2, and did the process again with the Acts of Marius &c.  Luckily for me, the electronic text that I had found had the BHL number for the work at the top – the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina index number, which was BHL 5543.  Had it not been there, of course, the BHL volume is at, for it is a century old.

Now once I have a BHL or BHG number, I always google for it.  It’s always a good idea to see what is out there.  Has somebody written a study on it?  Can I get an idea of its contents, its age, the scholarship?

So off I went and googled “BHL5543”.

Initial results were discouraging.  All dross really.  But I have found by experience that I need to keep going through several pages, and even redo the search in Google Books.  So I did.  And…. boy did I get this right.  I hit jackpot.

In fact I found this: Michael Lapidge, The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary, Oxford University Press (2017), present on Google Books preview here.  It contained 800 pages of pure gold: translations and commentary and a sterling introduction to every single Passio relating to a Roman martyr.  This included a full translation of the Acts of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abachum, complete with the bits that are about St Valentine of Rome.

So there is in fact no need for me to make a translation of this work at all; Dr. Lapidge has done it, and with the aid of his publisher probably better than I could.  The only fly in the ointment is the extraordinary price of the volume – $140 at Amazon, and £115 at Amazon UK (discounted from a p***-taking £140).  This places it firmly outside of the hands of the general reader.

It is a remarkable book.  The sheer labour in translating 800 pages of passiones is awe-inspiring.  But that is only part of what it achieves.  This is not just a translation but a study.

I learned – from what I could see of the introduction – that it soon becomes clear that all these Roman passiones correspond exactly to places of pilgrimage in Rome!  There is a church dedicated to each and every one of them, all of much the same period.  The conclusion, that the passiones were composed by the clergy of these churches is hard to resist.  But without working on the entire body of saints for Rome, Dr. L. might never have noticed this.

Likewise the clearly fictional nature, and even the stereotyped nature of the stories becomes clear.  Flicking through the introduction, I found page after page of solid hard information about hagiographical literature, about why it was written, when it was written, the history of printing them, and much else.  It’s almost a primer on hagiography, although at 42 pages, all too short, and one studded with up-to-date bibliography.  To read it is to feel the crying need for workers in this field.

But …. it is a book that nobody can afford to read.  I wish I had a copy.  I have a feeling that it would repay reading right through.


St Valentine – his “Passio” (BHL 8460) now online in English

St Valentine’s Day is February 14.  But who was St Valentine?  Well, he was bishop of Terni, or Interamna.  His (fictional) “Life” or “Passio” is now online in English.  This has the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina (BHL) number 8460.  The work probably dates from the 6th century AD.  It’s fairly short, and it has – sadly – nothing to do with romance.  The romantic connection with St Valentine’s Day goes back no further than Chaucer.

I’ve also included the Latin text and a short introduction.  As usual, the material is placed in the public domain – use it as you like.

Here it is:

I’ve also placed the files at here.

There is another Life of a saint Valentine on 14th Feb – a “St Valentine of Rome”, who was a priest.  He might be the same chap, actually.  The Life is not so well attested, or widely known.  I might look at translating this next.

Update (15/07/2019): Via this site I learn that an Italian translation does exist of BHL 8460: E. d’Angelo, Terni Medievale: La Città, la Chiesa, i Santi, l’Agiografia, Spoleto (2015), p.243-7.  But this I have not seen.  I have updated the files and re-uploaded them.