Sunday, February 14, 2016

Who was St Valentine? Was he Greek or Latin?

On the 14 February 270 AD, the military commander of Rome, Placidus, ordered the beheading of an elder man called Valentinus, the spiritual leader of the modern day region of Terni. Valentinus was born in that area, being ordained bishop by Pope Victor; he had gained great fame for his ethos and his work. The Roman palaces, however, did not like or support this reality. After the beheading of the elder bishop, three Christians (Proclus, Efivus and Apollonius – the latter being Placidus’ son) retrieved the martyr’s body and transported it to Terni, where they buried it south of the city. These three were later also martyred in that area. After the legalisation of Christianity by Emperor Constantine the Great, the locals were free to venerate their local saint, who had –up to that point- performed many miracles. On top of his burial spot the Christians later built a Basilica.

A question which has no clear answer within the Hagiology of the Church is whether the saint was Greek or Latin. We cannot be sure due to the following reason. In Rome, and in particular in the building block of St. Domitianus, there is the ancient Christian tomb of Santa Maria Antiqua (taken from the ancient image of the Virgin Mary, which was stored there). In the church one can see many wall paintings of various saints from both East and West. There also exists St. Valentine, whose inscription is written in Greek characters. The icon painting of the church (8th century) and its renovation were commissioned by Greek Pope John VII, who came from Byzantine Calabria and was the son of a Byzantine dignitary, names Plato. Despite being Pope for only two years (705-707), the work was continued by Greek Pope of Rome Zachary (741-752). The fact that his name was written in Greek, and the fact that the two Greek Popes wished to have St. Valentine painted in the church, question whether he was Greek. We cannot know for sure. And maybe it’s not that important anyway. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to find the answer, for academic reasons. In the West St Valentine day is celebrated on 14 February. The Orthodox Church, however, celebrates his memory on the 24 October. 

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