Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day! The holiday of love is typically associated with buying chocolate hearts and cutesy stuffed animals even more than a true celebration of love itself, but how did it all come to be? The story of Saint Valentine begins in the most romantic city in the world: Rome.
Who was Saint Valentine?
It is the third century in the Roman Empire. The Colosseum is no longer just a place of sport, but also of Christian persecution. Though the religion is spreading at large, the Romans have yet to loosen their hold on the traditional mythology, and punishment for all those that rebel is ruthless.
Saint Valentine was a clergyman, born in Terni. As Christian persecutions intensified, he moved to Rome, preaching to those specifically under religious oppression.
The Birth of Valentine’s Day
At this same time, Claudius the Cruel held Rome with an iron fist, ruling the military ruthlessly. However, many soldiers were hesitant to join his ranks. He blamed their commitment to their spouses. So, in order to fix the problem, Claudius banned marriage altogether.
It was Valentine who would ensure the eternal union of young lovers, officiating their weddings in secret. When this act of defiance against Claudius was found out, he ruled Valentine be put to death for his actions. On February 14, 270 (give or take a year or two), Valentine was tragically beheaded.
According to some accounts, Valentine made friends with the daughter of the jailer during his time in jail before his execution. On the day of the deed, he wrote her a letter, signing it, “From Your Valentine,” hence the saying today.
Shortly after his death, the clergyman was appointed to sainthood for his rebellion in the name of love. A large feast celebrating his life ensued, and thus, Valentine’s Day was born.
During a romantic stay in Rome, feel free to visit the Saint himself! The Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome showcases a glorious floral display of his skull. To keep the romance pilgrimage going, you can also find fragments of his skull in plenty of European countries such as France, Czech Republic, and Scotland.
Keep the celebration going around Italy
The official grave of Saint Valentine is located two hours from the Roman cobblestone streets in Terni. The Basilica di San Valentino has a rich history of the search for the saint’s remains, and he was finally laid to rest within the church in 1618. He lies there to this day.
Back before the takeover of Chrisitanity, Roman mythology ruled the land. If skulls and churches aren’t your ideal romance vibe, Venus (the Latin version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite) has your back.
Despite the city’s strong Catholic roots, Venus is still considered the mother of Rome. Long ago, the great hero and son of Venus, Aeneas, was one of the sole survivors of the Trojan War. Legend has it that all Romans are descended from him.
A grand statue of the love goddess can be found at the top of Capitoline Hill in Rome within the Capitoline Museum. Aptly named, the statue is referred to as Capitoline Venus. Many copies of this statue have been made and can be seen in places such as the Louver and National Museum in Warsaw.
Because of Venus’s status as the Roman mother, a statue of her and her son Cupid can even be seen in the Vatican Museums. She is displayed proudly in the Octagon of Hermes Hall.
So, go out and indulge in the romance around Italy! Happy Valentine’s Day!