The mystery of St. Valentine

Celebrated each year on February 14, St. Valentine’s Day is a feast in the honour of the patron of those who are looking for and those who have already found their second halves. It is worth mentioning, however, that the said saint is also a patron saint of epilepsy.

The tradition of exchanging flowers and gifts on this special day is well known in many cultures worldwide, but the person of Saint Valentine remains a mystery to this day. Christian folk stories give account of at least three saints by the name of Valentine, the most plausible of which seems to be the story of a third-century Roman priest who died a martyr’s death. Legend has it that he disobeyed the edict of Emperor Claudius II prohibiting monogamous marriages among young men on the grounds that bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine is said to have acted against the decree, establishing the day of 14th February as one on which marriages within the Christian church were blessed collectively.

Valentine was eventually captured and sentenced to death. It is believed that he fell in love with the daughter of his jailor and on the day of the execution he wrote her a letter, signing it “from your Valentine”. The unique phrase and the date have both remained an integral part of the way courtly love is being cherished in various parts of the world.

But how has St. Valentine become linked to epilepsy? In the distant past, when the causes of many diseases and conditions were yet unknown, it was believed that they could only be cured with the help of divine intervention. Epilepsy was particularly considered to be caused by demons or evil spirits taking possession of a person’s soul. There were about forty saints attributed with the ability to heal epilepsy, but legend has it that St. Valentine was notably efficient at preventing seizures. Many works of art still exist depicting this saint in the process of healing people affected by epilepsy.

St. Valentine healing epilepsy - unknown author

   Description: St. Valentine is healing an epilepsy
   Source: Dr. František Ehrmann, Obrázkový život svatých pro školu a dům,
              Brno 1899
   Author: Unknown